Summary: Next in this series looking the Saudi Princes’ attempts to cope with the 21st century, we share Stratfor’s analysis of how the Princes and Iran’s mullahs (aka ruhani) are responding to their irresistible common enemy — the internet, and especially social media.
“Information wants to be free””
— Stewart Brand told Steve Wozniak at the first Hackers Conference in 1984. He was referring only to the cost of information, but the concept applies in a wider sense.
Saudi Arabia and Iran: Enemies With a Common Problem
Stratfor, 2 May 2016
- The Iranian and Saudi governments will yield to public pressure to improve citizens’ access to the Internet and mobile phone applications, risking conservative backlash in the process.
- Iran will have a harder time than Saudi Arabia in building better Internet infrastructure, though the lifting of sanctions should make this somewhat easier.
- The utility of third-party social media platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram will save them from being banned in both countries, even as debate over their inherent risks to stability continues.
As technology has progressed, Internet and cellphone users have gained greater freedom and privacy. At the same time, governments can use some of the same tools to achieve their own ends, whether for simple communication or for better surveillance. For states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia — which, for all their fierce rivalry, share the same struggle in managing political opposition at home — these technologies present both an opportunity and a challenge to leaders striving to stay in control.
Despite their antagonism toward each other, Iran and Saudi Arabia have similar strategies for regulating electronic interaction. Both monitor citizens’ emails, social media and text messages in the name of protecting their nations’ moral fiber and national security. And without the capability to develop their own equivalents of popular programs such as Twitter, Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook, both countries have been forced to accept the risks of such applications along with their advantages, managing the prospect of greater public discourse — and dissent — as best they can.