What put Saudi women in the driving seat
Saudi Arabia - Put social media, Saudi women and driving in a campaign and you have an explosion waiting to happen.
And that's precisely what happened when an online campaign urging women to start driving sparked a huge controversy in Saudi Arabia, with many coming forward and supporting it openly. Responding favourably to the campaign called ‘Women2Drive', several women went behind the wheel in major cities in the Kingdom in June.
The organisers of ‘Women2Drive' began encouraging women to take to the streets en masse, behind the wheel in defiance of a religious edict, fatwa, forbidding women to drive automobiles.
Similar to the Egypt revolution, this campaign had its roots in social media.
Reports cited that social media tools were used to spread the word about the campaign. There was a video and a Facebook page marking the June 17 protest against the driving ban. And all these were taken down by the Saudi authorities.
The internet community though rallied: the video was reposted, the Facebook pages are online as is the new twitter account for the campaign.
"We are living in a fascinating age where digital platforms enable people to communicate and collaborate like never before. Social media not only allows people to express, converse and support, but, also shape the way in which we consume information and news in particular," Noah Khan business head for Possible Worldwide in Dubai told Marketing.
Khan added that social platforms have created 'now media' where first-hand accounts of an individual or group can be shared across the planet within seconds. Through social fanning this information spreads at an unprecedented rate gaining support, momentum and challenging our views and perceptions.
"As always there can be a dark side. The opportunity to create and spread inaccuracies (deliberate or otherwise), falsehoods, rumours and mischief are also unprecedented. The cloak of anonymity allows anyone with a motive to ignite a firestorm easily and quickly," he said.
"We have already seen the power of social media to support positive change. However, we all need to be aware of the risk of the same platforms being used to spread mistrust and hate," he said.
What's occurred in Saudi Arabia is similar to what went on in Egypt earlier in the year.
When the Tunisian president and his entourage were toppled by the masses who marched on the streets, a young veiled Egyptian girl named Asma Mahfouz quickly shot a video urging the Egyptian people not to be scared and asking, "How long are you ready to continue living in fear?"
Mahfouz's impassioned blog post, which called on Egyptians to march toward Midan Al Tahreer (Liberation Square) on Jan. 25, went viral on social networking sites, and many observers are now citing her video and blog as what has triggered the second Egyptian revolution.
Ramzi Raad, Chairman and CEO of TBWA\RAAD Middle East and Ketchum Raad Middle East recounts a history lesson: in 1952, a revolution brought major changes not only to Egypt - where it erupted - but to the entire Arab world, from Algeria to Yemen. Some of these changes related to mass media, such as the exodus of publishers, journalists, and advertising and PR pros from Egypt as well as the transfer of the title of Arab media capital from Cairo to Beirut.
The Egyptian Army that took over from King Farouk then was quick to nationalise and take local media under its control, he says.
Since then, and despite the establishment of a republic that replaced the monarchy, the four Egyptian presidents that have come to power following this revolution have all been ex-Army officers, and the leading Egyptian media remained, one way or the other, under government control.
As a result, Egypt's Al-Ahram, the second-oldest daily newspaper in the Arab world, has continued to be one of the most influential and highest-circulating Pan-Arab dailies, and many regional TV and radio stations in Egypt have continued to be similarly powerful and popular.
The introduction of the open-door economic policy by the late president Sadat signaled the return of modern-day consumerism to Egypt, which attracted multinational manufacturing and trading companies to the country.
These companies have always considered Egypt as one of the most promising markets in the Middle East and North Africa. In turn, this made international PR and ad agencies rush back to Cairo, in a big way.
"There has been a great deal of change in the Egyptian media scene as social networking has suddenly emerged as the new online forum for Egyptians, with such sites as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter commanding audiences that rival many regional TV stations and daily newspapers. Egyptian masses seem to have become passionately engaged with this new freedom, which has enabled them to share experiences, criticize the regime and invite others to join their interest groups," Raad tells Marketing.
Gone are the days when a camera crew and a satellite connection were needed to break global news. A mobile phone is now all you need.
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