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Sun, 17 Nov 2019 12:32 GMT

WhatsApp in the Middle East: Essential but Controversial

Science & Technology

7Dnews London

Sun, 27 Oct 2019 20:24 GMT

WhatsApp has become an indispensable connecting medium for millions of people, as waves of protests spark in different parts across the Arab World, according to a report by AFP.

In Lebanon, a decision announced by the government on October 17th to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls ignited mass protests, as the citizens depend heavily on it to make up for the expensive telecommunications.

Although the plan was soon dropped, the demonstrations have morphed into demands for an overhaul of the entire political system in the crisis-ravaged country.

Although the Lebanese protestors rejected the term "WhatsApp revolution" as it diminishes their demand for drastic political change, they acknowledged the technology is instrumental in mobilising rallies that have attracted hundreds of thousands from a population of about six million.

Yasmine Rifaii, 24, a protest organiser from Tripoli in northern Lebanon, who works at a local NGO, said WhatsApp was operating as a virtual "backstage for the revolution."

And in a war-torn country like Syria, WhatsApp can save lives.

Mustafa al-Hajj Younes, who heads a group of first responders in Idlib province, said civilians use group chats to seek the help of rescue teams, as many areas suffer from weak telecommunications infrastructure.

"We coordinate on these groups whenever there is a need for our services," he said

In Iraq, when anti-corruption demonstrations broke out in many cities early this month, authorities cut internet services in an attempt to quell unrest, a method they have resorted to in the past.

"We consider WhatsApp to be the most dangerous application at this stage," a well-placed security source who preferred to remain anonymous told AFP.

In Iran, officials banned the more secure app Telegram, saying it was used to fuel unrest during a wave of protests in January 2018, which has prompted many young people to turn to WhatsApp.

"The ban on Telegram has made me use WhatsApp more," said Ramin, a 26-year-old, who described the idea of taxing social media to make up for budget shortfalls as "ridiculous."

Middle East