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Contest in Cyberspace: Digital Activism and Mobilisation in Kuwait and Oman
Date: 20 April 2020
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Middle East Politics
This thesis examines the impact of the introduction of the Internet in Kuwait and Oman on the dynamics of mobilisation in both countries, applying the concept of ‘contentious politics.’ It is argued that the Internet has affected the dynamics of mobilisation in Kuwait and Oman by providing new opportunities for brokerage, diffusion and ...
This thesis examines the impact of the introduction of the Internet in Kuwait and Oman on the dynamics of mobilisation in both countries, applying the concept of ‘contentious politics.’ It is argued that the Internet has affected the dynamics of mobilisation in Kuwait and Oman by providing new opportunities for brokerage, diffusion and organisation of coordinated action. This argument is made on the basis of primary material obtained from semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observations that distinguish this thesis from previous research on the topic, alongside a wide variety of secondary sources. In Kuwait, the Internet has offered a virtual space in which brokerage, diffusion and the organisation of coordinated action is enabled, alongside physical spaces such as societies, civil associations and diwaniyyas, as well as mass media. Since 2006 particularly, the Internet has provided new opportunities for mobilisation to subaltern groups such as the Bidun and the youth. They can use the Internet to circumvent limited access to civil society institutions, and exploit the opportunities blogs and Social Networking Sites (SNS) offer to diffuse their frames, set up new networks and organise protests. In Oman, the Internet has become an auxiliary for the absence of a vibrant civil society, and has helped to foster mobilisation by creating new activist networks and diffusing frames through blogs, forums and SNS. In addition, it has proved to be vital for the organisation of coordinated action. The Internet has cultivated inter-group connections that transcend rigid tribal hierarchies in Oman, as exemplified during the Omani Spring. At the same time, the interviews revealed that the Internet has also had an important cognitive impact, as it has helped citizens in both countries to become cognisant of different perspectives. This in turn has encouraged criticism of existing political, social and economic hierarchies. However, the Internet is a contested space, where the balance of power between governments and activists is affected by capabilities, access to resources and the technological architecture of the dominant platforms. Both the Kuwaiti and Omani governments have used repression, and to a much lesser extent co-optation, in order to stymie online mobilisation. So far, they have been effective in preventing any large-scale protests occurring since 2013 through the implementation of counter-measures fostering a process of demobilisation.
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