Tradition meets Twitter: Saudis pledge to new king
Decades ago, Saudis trekked across their desert kingdom to pledge allegiance to their new kings at their palaces. Now they are just using Twitter.
Thousands of Saudis have poured into the palace of King Salman who acceded the throne after the death of his half-brother Abdullah last week.
Many others exercised the entrenched tradition at the palaces of provincial princes.
But thousands of others have pledged their allegiance to the new ruler online, taking advantage of social media networks.
Chief among them is Twitter, whose popularity has exploded with an astounding 40 per cent of Saudis now using the microblogging website.
Saudi Arabia is governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law, but authorities have stopped short of banning Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, unlike in the republic of Iran.
Ultra-conservatives tweet as much as liberals in the tightly censored absolute monarchy, with clerics attracting the most followers, like Mohammed Al Arefe who has 10.8 million of them.
However, several users have faced jail over their posts that have been deemed offensive to the authorities.
King Salman himself has an account that saw its number of followers surge to 1.6 million as he became the monarch.
"I pray to God to help me serve our dear people and achieve their aspirations, and to keep our country secure and stable," read a tweet posted on the account following his accession.
A hashtag in Arabic declaring "I pledge allegiance to King Salman" spread quickly among Saudi tweeps after King Abdullah died on Friday, as users of the site mourned the late monarch.
'Progress without abandoning tradition'
"I have pledged my allegiance through Twitter because as we progress technologically, we do not abandon our identity and traditions," said Twitter user Salman Al Otaibi.
"This pledge is a duty on every Muslim," he told AFP.
Metab Al Samiri tweeted: "With full obedience, I pledge allegiance to you Salman."
The pledge is both an obligation to provide the ruler with legitimacy and a tribal commitment to obey the new leader.
Users calling for reforms in the kingdom have taken to the platform to voice discontent and demand concessions from the ruling family.
"We want a consultative Shura Council that is elected by the people, capable of legislating laws and holding the cabinet to account," said one tweet.
"This way, the alleged reforms could be achieved," it added, using another popular hashtag that said: "Demands for King Salman."
Despite timid steps to introduce reforms, Saudi Arabia under Abdullah remained a tightly controlled kingdom, where conservatives continue to play a strong role.
Twitter is "the source of all evil and devastation", said the kingdom's top cleric Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh in a fatwa edict in October.
"People are rushing to it thinking it's a source of credible information but it's a source of lies and falsehood," he said.
Despite such warnings, there are no signs of Twitter's popularity waning in Saudi Arabia, whose five million users give the kingdom the world's highest penetration.
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