So I met Mohammed Al Mesa’ed, aka Green Tea, or simply the man I have been referring to in recent conversations with some friends as the OCSAB Guy. Few days ago, he called me pretending to be a reporter for Al-Riyadh newspaper. He gave me a false name, and asked me for an interview, which I agreed to do. We decided to meet in a nearby coffee shop, and only when I met him and he gave me his business card I discovered that he was lying. I was puzzled over how he got my mobile number, but then realized that it was not something really impossible to do, especially that I’m not a privacy freak of any kind. However, the method he used to reach me was disrespectful, unprofessional, and immoral. I considered walking out on him, but I thought that if the guy was willing to lie in order to meet me, then probably he had a good reason to do so. We talked for about two hours, interrupted many times by the ringing of his mobile phones.
OCSAB, an acronym for ‘the official community of the Saudi bloggers’ (btw, I think the second “the” in the name should be removed), was co-founded by Al Mesa’ed, a law student at KSU, earlier this year, and I read about it for the first time on his blog when he announced their first meeting. My initial impression on OCSAB was not very positive. For me, they looked excluding, and their tendency to label others does not go with what I know about building a community. According to their website, blogs that want to join OCSAB must adhere to four guidelines; three out of these four did not make much sense to me.
The first one reads: “The blog must not insult Islam at any level, and therefore it must not call to liberalism and secularism.” It seems like OCSAB believe liberalism equals secularism, and therefore it is against Islam. Well, I don’t think that being a liberal contradicts with being a Muslim. I’m a liberal, and I’m damn proud of it. In the same time, I try to be a devoted Muslim, and I don’t feel any contradictions between the two. The second is for a blog to be Saudi, and that’s totally understood, but I think it should have come first not second. The third one says “the blog must be in Arabic, except for blogs that call to Islam.” If OCSAB think those who blog in English do it because they can’t blog in Arabic, are not proud of their culture and religion, or have some kind of an identity crisis, then they are wrong. And if they think they can this way overcome the leadership of Saudi blogs written in English, then they are so wrong. Content is king, and it does not matter in what language it is written. The last one says the blog should be on a certain topic, and they “apologize for not accepting blogs with personal content.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for blogs that specialize in a certain topic, but I think blogs are basically a medium for personal publishing, and if we took the personal touch out of blogs then what’s the difference between blogging and traditional journalism?
Al Mesa’ed and I have our differences. We agree on some stuff, we disagree on many stuff, and apparently we have two very different definitions of freedom, but I think that no matter what, a certain level of mutual respect is there and it should be maintained. Thanks to his connections, he provided a good exposure to OCSAB early on: there are already several mentions of them in the local press, and he will be on TV next week on two different channels to talk about their work. During our meeting, he tried to make me say what I don’t like about him, but I refused to say. I think that he also wanted me to announce my support to OCSAB by the end of the the meeting, and probably join them, but I did not do any of that either.
OCSAB might gain some success, but due to their current nature, I don’t see them creating a big fellowship. People would be either with or against them, and this is not always a good thing. If you want to attract people to a community you should give them space to create, practice their freedom, and be themselves, not to restrict them with your own set of rules. One of their goals is to spread blogging in Saudi Arabia, and I absolutely share this goal with them. That’s why I think their biggest success would be to convince influential people and good writers to start blogging. If they could accomplish this, then I would for sure give them the credit they deserve. I’m skeptical, as always, but for the time being, they have just started, there are too much they have to do, and it is still very early to give any review on their work.