Public Diplomacy Fall Speaker Series: Ahmed El Gody

Join the USC Center on Public Diplomacy in welcoming Ahmed El Gody for a roundtable discussion titled, "New Media, New Politics, and New forms of Censorship in the Middle East." Gody will discuss his research on the role of online media and its impact on democratization forces. Gody is the senior lecturer and director of New Media Lab Faculty of Mass Communication Modern Sciences and Arts University. He is currently located at The University of Southern California. Lunch will be served.

Click here to listen to audio of this event (22mb MP3, 54:45)
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Monday, October 9, 2006

2:30 p.m.

Annenberg, Room 207

Ahmed El Gody Poster

Event Report

How the Internet Is Backfiring on Arab Governments
By Noah Barron

A visiting Egyptian media scholar said Monday at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy that "the Internet is creating a new media agenda in the Arab world, creating new audiences and putting new pressure on Arab governments."

Doctoral candidate Ahmed El Gody of the Modern Sciences and Arts University in Cairo discussed how Web usage in the Middle East has contributed to grassroots political activism.

According to El Gody, Internet penetration in Arab countries was very low until 2000. He said the number of Web users in the Arab worldout of a total population of over 200 million people -- held steady at roughly 1.8 million from 1991, when the Internet was first introduced, until 2000. But in the six years following, the number of Internet users has exploded to 33 million people.

El Gody blames poor infrastructure, expensive equipment, cultural isolationism and low literacy rates for the curbing Internet usage. Yet a boom is underway nevertheless, he says, and it was started by governments that saw the Web as an economic development tool and financed improvements to the information infrastructure in hopes of joining the global market.

An unplanned side-effect, he says, has been the explosion in personal Web site creation, news access in otherwise closed societies and blogging. In Iran, for example, there are 7.5 million Web users and 7 million blogs. Even President Ahmadinejad has one.

"The Internet created a call for social change," El Gody said. For the first time, "Arabs had unfettered access to an unprecedented amount of information around the globe." Groups like women, gays and comparatively smaller faiths like Coptic Christians and Bahai suddenly had a voice in politics, he said.

El Gody detailed the efforts of some Arab governments to curtail dissent online, including outright censorship, page removal and redirection and arrests of bloggers. However, the more governments attempt to crack down on political speech online, "the more the number of political websites in the Arab world increases," he says.

El Gody's speech was co-sponsored by the USC Integrated Media Systems Center.

Noah Barron is a graduate journalism student at Annenberg. Reach him by email at or visit him online at


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