Going Online for News, Love and Democracy

Internet Cafe Sign

hide captionInternet cafes are everywhere in big cities like Cairo, though the term café is used loosely: It's just a few rows of computers in a basement.

Eric Weiner

The number of Arabs using the Web is still small compared to America, but it's growing all the time. Islamic extremists recruit members and spread hatred via the Web — and get the headlines — but far more people in the Arab world are using the Internet to connect and share information.

Internet users in the Arab world face all kinds of challenges. Connections are difficult to get, and often expensive. Some countries — Saudi Arabia and Syria, to name just two, block Web sites deemed "inappropriate." That definition can cover everything from online pornography to sites created by the Israeli government. Even the popular Friendster.com Web site is blocked in the United Arab Emirates.

One of the most popular Web sites in the Mideast is IslamOnline.net, which espouses a mostly moderate definition of the Muslim faith. One of the site's more popular features is the "Live Fatwa," where an Islamic cleric answers e-mailed, religious-oriented questions from the faithful in real time.

Only about five percent of the population of Egypt has Internet access — but users are already turning to the Web to find marriage partners, get the news and write blogs. Bloggers say the Web is a good way to air their political views, but they don't have the kind of political clout that bloggers have in the United States — yet.

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