Monday, January 10, 2005


MinInf? Ministry of Information, aka Ministry of Censorship. Gulf countries have traditionally had these things, ostensibly to make sure that published material does not offend Islamic and cultural values.

In this modern age, the wise leaders have realised that this is a complete waste of time. The Interweb means that anyone with a computer and a web connection can say anything they like. Jordan and Qatar have already done away with their info ministries. Possibly they think that grown-ups should be free to make their own decisions in these matters.

Kuwait's Minister of Information resigned in high dudgeon (I love that phrase, and one day might try to find out what it means - maybe I'll ask the Min of Inf) a few days ago ahead of a grilling by Islamists in the Government who thought he wasn't doing enough to stop people having fun. On a side issue, all New Year celebrations were cancelled by the government at very short notice. I really do not like the way Kuwait is going these days, and I suspect most Kuwaitis don't either. Reading Kuwaiti blogs, they feel they are being Talibanised. Yekk.

Anyhoo, big media conference on here in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed's keynote speech imploring journos et al to do their job, and report what is happening, good or bad. There was a time, not so long ago, when doing just that could get you deported. And it's a hard habit to break out of - you do not want to be the person that pushes the envelope just that bit too far. I don't know if the Ministry of Information has a Blogging Division, but, again, I don't want to be the person that finds out about it first!

Censorship in the Gulf has always driven me a bit nutty. When I served my one-year bachelor sentence in Riyadh, I was stunned by the amount of censorship going on. If you ventured into a record shop (you had to be a male-type person to do this - femmes were actually not allowed), you might see CDs on display. The cover might feature a good-lookin' person of the female persuasion. And whatever she was wearing would be invisible because the censors would have blacked it out up to the neck. And luscious red lips were a no-no also, they would be given a black moustache treatment. You were supposed to be happy to pay good money for this!

Really, I thought Saudi was obscene. You might think that's an odd word to describe a country that seems to think it is the sole upholder of the moral values of the planet. But really, I was utterly mortified by the entire place the whole time I was there - can you describe a country as a moral pervert? I worked in an architect's office, and my colleagues were worried when I designed a free-standing spiral staircase with glass balustrading. Why? Because local men will gather at the bottom of the stairs and try to look up the skirts of ladies walking up them. For Heaven's sake. The Muttawah ('religious' police) thought they were doing a grand old job, but actually they just drag the country into disrepute.

We've never had Muttawah in the UAE, but we do still have a bit of censorship. Nipples and bum-cracks get blacked out in magazines. Etisalat, our monopoly Interweb Service Provider, still feels the need to pump everything through a proxy server that blocks a few million websites. Essex University? Nah.

PS Para about Saudi toned down a bit to protect the innocent (that's me!).

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