Political reform, racism, transgender rights – the Clubhouse audio app has spread uninterrupted debates on topics deemed dangerous in Saudi Arabia, but fears of surveillance have encouraged consumers in the authoritative state.
Banned by the censors in China, the invite-only app is gaining traction in parts of the Gulf, sparking bold conversations in countries known for banning free speech.
The most provocative ones seem to be taking place in chat rooms targeting Saudi Arabia, where national trolls and government scandal over online critics have hampered debate on other platforms to a large extent.
The app is so popular that some users of the realm are offering to sell Clubhouse invitations on Twitter, highlighting a pessimistic desire for debate and discussion despite fears of vigilance.
“The clubhouse is thriving because there are plenty of Saudi intellectuals interested in debating multiple topics that could be considered taboo or censored in the public sphere,” Amani said al-Ahmadi, a U.S.-based Saudi-American activist, told AFP.
But after Ahmadi recently held a discussion on “racism in Saudi Arabia”, Twitter was spread with screenshots and videos revealing the identities and opinions of the participants, along with theories of co-existence. cheated about their causes.
The invention, which sparked fears of app users being monitored, marked a breach of the rules laid down by Clubhouse, which prohibits recording conversations.
A clubhouse similar to that created to consider the protagonist in jail Loujain al-Hathloul was recently forced to release after some threatened speakers appeared in public, according to two source that was confidential to the session.
“I see some Saudi trolls bringing Clubhouse conversations to Twitter by recording and tagging people,” Ahmadi said.
“This is still a new platform and there are a lot of security concerns.”
Clubhouse did not respond to a request from AFP to comment on the reported breaches.
In a sign that some may already be self-censoring on stage, many start their conversations with the condition “I am within” the kingdom or “I am in a conscious place ”, A Saudi user of the app told AFP.
But despite the dangers, many Saudis are engaging in free-spirited negotiations that capture the zeitgeist of a relatively young population.
In one chat room, a Saudi woman denounced the lack of civil liberties in the entire monarchy.
“Thinking freely carries a huge cost, it can cost your life, it can send you to jail,” she said, according to partners.
“We are not barn animals … It is our right to think and our right to complain like any other country. This is the simplest right of citizens.”
In another, Saudi suggested new employment opportunities for women in the country, but said they came at a huge cost.
“We are now walking down the path to equality,” she said.
“But a lot of Saudi men have become embarrassed and asked: ‘Why is it that women have more job opportunities than me?'”
And in another, a transgender woman from the realm shared her cold experiences about being publicly harassed and harassed, according to app users.
‘Filling a gap’
Such unhindered negotiations have provoked wild calls for state rule from supporters of the government.
“The strain that his debates could generate could harm society as a whole without any organizational or ethical constraints,” Salman al-Dossary wrote in a Saudi newspaper column with the title “Clubhouse’s Moral Legacy”.
In an online video, Saudi academic Fahad al-Otaibi went so far as to say that Clubhouse was a threat to the national security of the kingdom.
There was no official comment from Saudi authorities.
Saudi app users say it is only a matter of time before government supporters take control of the platform’s activity – just as they did with Twitter.
Pro-regime cyber forces have infiltrated Twitter, intimidating critics of the nation and leaking online statements while also using the platform to advance the reforms of the encourage government.
In recent years, regime critics have been jailed for tweets, highlighting how social media has become an weapon of authoritarian regulation, campaigners say.
“The clubhouse is filling a huge gap at the moment, and the popularity in the Gulf shows that people have been waiting for a new path to express their views, ideas that study and debate freely and without censorship, ”said Ahmed Gatnash, co – founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation’s Middle East Enterprise Group.
“I fear that the Saudi government will either crack down on banning the app, or monitor rooms and arrest people for exercising their right to free speech, as they have done with Twitter in recent years, “Gatnash told AFP.