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Reporting in the MENA Region: Cyber Engagement and Pan-Arab Social Media by Mohammad Ayish and Noha Mellor, and: The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World by Marwan M. Kraidy (review)
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Reporting in the MENA Region: Cyber Engagement and Pan-Arab Social Media, by Mohammad Ayish and Noha Mellor. Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015. 188 pages. $80.
The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World, by Marwan M. Kraidy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. 304 pages. $39.95.

One of the areas of scholarship that received particular attention in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings was that of social media and their social and political effects in the Middle East and North Africa region. Social media were highlighted by academics and commentators alike as a pivotal driver in the protest movements that came to be known as the Arab Spring and scholarship quickly sought to understand the extent of its role.1 Prior to the uprisings, pan-Arab media had also come under the spotlight and several studies have been conducted on the evolution of the Arab satellite television industry.2 The Arabic news channel Al Jazeera in particular has symbolized [End Page 168] the claimed ability of pan-Arab news channels to influence politics in the region. Consequently, a number of authors have argued that Al Jazeera has been an agent for both redefining Arab journalism and reshaping politics.3 Studying Arabic media as an agent of change and political mobilization is not a new endeavor, although it took on new significance after 2010.

Reporting in the MENA Region combines the interest in pan-Arab media with that of social media and thereby fills a gap that has opened up in the literature, particularly since the Arab uprisings began and due to the pressure to understand the implications of constantly developing communications technology. It aims to explore the implications of social media for the practices of pan-Arab journalism, with a focus on how Arab journalists have begun to employ social media. If, as previous literature has argued, Arab media practices have played a part in reshaping Arab political life, then the engagement of Arab media with social media has implications for the Middle East and North Africa and for the evolution of political practices post–Arab Spring.

The book has three main concerns: 1) digital media trends, 2) the analysis of journalists’ attitudes to social media in the pan-Arab media space, and 3) patterns of usage by Arab journalists. The overarching question is, what is the value of social media in terms of engagement, not just in numbers of users? It begins by setting out the scene within the global media context and the specific climate of the Arab world. Then, using analyses of Facebook and Twitter content and usage in combination with interviews with 26 Arab journalists who engage extensively with social media, the authors draw conclusions about the way social media are changing journalism practices in the Arab world.

One of the major changes noted is the increasing use of colloquial rather than Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in order to engage young audiences. This is significant because one of the features that has supported the formation of a pan-Arab media space and given it region-wide impact is that it uses MSA, which can be understood throughout the Middle East and North Africa, unlike the numerous Arabic dialects that encompass huge variations.

The authors have also noted the beginnings of a shift in emphasis away from political news to social interest stories that provide clickbait and place weight on visual content at the expense of written text in order to increase Internet traffic. At the same time, authors Mohammad Ayish and Noha Mellor also show that social media have resulted in enhanced audience empowerment. However, as the authors capably show through this study, this empowerment has been limited by the variation in restrictions on freedom of expression, in addition to the well-recognized barriers that limit access to technology.

Because the point of departure for this study is the experiences and perspectives of journalists working out of pan-Arab news offices, the focus is very much the evolution of the role of the Arab journalist in light of political and technological developments. Consequently, as the authors themselves identify, more research is needed on...