The head of Saudi Arabia's religious police has condemned Twitter users in the country, reportedly saying that anyone using social media sites, particularly Twitter, "has lost this world and his afterlife." The comments are the latest sign of concern amongst the Saudi government over the growing use of social media as a platform for "broad debate on subjects ranging from religion to politics in a country where such public discussion had been considered at best unseemly and sometimes illegal." According to the BBC's Sebastian Usher, Saudi Arabia is currently seeing the world's fastest increase in people joining Twitter.
It is no surprise that the repressive Saudi authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the growing use of social media as a platform for public discussion and dissent given the influential role that social media played in the Arab uprisings.
The comments come after reports earlier this year that "Saudi Arabia may try to end anonymity for Twitter users in the country by limiting access to the site to people who register their identification documents." The move would allow the government to monitor what individual Saudis are saying on Twitter. According to local newspapers, back in February this year Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, the top religious leader in the country, called Twitters users "clowns" and said that they were wasting their time engaging in frivolous and harmful discussions.
Saudi authorities have previously threatened to ban messaging services such as Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp, and at one point was going to implement a ban on Blackberry phones. Using social media has become an increasingly important tool for those seeking open discussion and change within the notoriously repressive Saudi kingdom, change which is even harder given that the government is supported by the most powerful country in the world. (Yes, America.)
The BBC reports that Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the head of the religious police, said that "Twitter was the platform for those who did not have any platform." And in a sense he has a point. Except that the reason people have no platform is because the government is actively denying them one.