Yeslam Al-Saggaf, John Weckert

Freedom of expression online in Saudi Arabia from a liberal, individualistic and a collectivistic perspective

This paper aims to explore freedom of expression on the Saudi internet from both a Western philosophical perspective and a Saudi Arabian cultural perspective. Specifically, the paper will explore the applicability of the Millian account of freedom of expression to the Saudi context and then present an argument from an Islamic collectivistic perspective in defence of restricting some kinds of speech online. We will argue that while Mill's views on freedom of expression may not apply to the Saudi context because of the importance Mill places on individualism and the importance the Saudi culture places on collectivism, Mill's harm principle was found to be a useful criterion for justifying restrictions on freedom of expression. To provide context, the paper will discuss the factors that could be responsible for limiting freedom of expression online in Saudi Arabia and some of the groups of people who are especially affected by the limitations on freedom of expression on the internet. The basis of this discussion will be findings obtained from several studies conducted by the first author between 2006 and 2009. Towards the end, the paper will attempt to couch the discussion about the harm principle in terms of the Saudi culture.

Keywords: freedom of expression online, Saudi Arabia, Mill's harm principle, content filtering, culture, politics, liberal individualism, collectivism


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Note on the contributor

Yeslam Al-Saggaf is a Senior Lecturer in Information Technology and a Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE). He holds a bachelor's degree in engineering (with honours) in computer and information engineering, from Malaysia, a Masters in Information Technology and a PhD from Charles Sturt University, Australia. His research interests lie in the areas of online communities (both social and political) and the online public spheres in the Arab world. He has published in those areas in a number of international refereed journals as well as presenting at a number of international conferences. His current research project focuses on online media choice in the Arab world. Contact details: School of Computing and Mathematics, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.

John Weckert is Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), Professor of Information Technology, Charles Sturt University, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. He is Manager of the CAPPE Research Programme in IT and Nanotechnology: the Ethics of Emergent Technologies. His PhD is in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne and he has a Diploma in Computer Science from Latrobe University. He has taught and published in the area of information technology for many years, and has recently published widely in the field of computer ethics and the ethics of nanotechnology. Contact details: School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.