SAUDI ARABIA: 'Pure' Islamic alternative to YouTube launched
In a move to preserve religious and moral values in cyberspace, a group of unidentified Saudis have launched a "clean" Islamic alternative to the leading video-sharing site YouTube.
It's called NaqaTube.
Naqa means "pure" in Arabic. The website offers a collection of edited and Islamically "clean" clips from YouTube under the banner, “Participate with us in a clean website."
Site administrators censor video clips that express critical views of the government, Islamic scholars and members of the Saudi royal family.
In keeping with Saudi Arabia's strict religious and moral codes, music videos and clips featuring women are also banned. Any music videos on NaqaTube must adhere to Islamic rules.
Abu Ibraheem, the handle of a NaqaTube moderator, assured in an interview with the Saudi English-language daily Arab News that all footage on NaqaTube is "religiously safe."
The clips, he said, are often edited before being posted. Visitors also can use its online tool to edit their own footage before uploading it to the site.
Abu Ibraheem told the paper that he hopes NaqaTube will some day rival YouTube, perhaps by decreasing the number of visitors to YouTube.
But for now NaqaTube will have to wait. It has attracted only 5,000 to 6,000 visitors since its launch this summer, Abu Ibraheem said.
Plans are in the pipeline to launch NaqaTube in languages other than Arabic.
The vast majority of clips on NaqaTube have religious themes. Visitors are offered a spectrum of more than 10 channels, including a science-themed one and a site featuring children's cartoon clips.
Viewers are also offered countless clips of religious scholars giving lectures and debating Islamic rules on talk shows.
Abu Ibraheem stressed that NaqaTube is promoting "moderate" Islamic teachings and "nothing extreme."
NaqaTube isn't the first religious counterpart of YouTube. Other examples include JewTube, Islamicube, and GodTube (now called tangle.com), which describes itself as using "technology to connect Christians for the purpose of encouraging and advancing the Gospel worldwide."
NaqaTube comes as Saudi Arabia tries to censor Internet content deemed harmful to its values.
The initiative, titled Saudi Flagger, includes 200 volunteers who search YouTube for inappropriate content.
Once a racy clip is found, a member of the campaign flags it. Users are then encouraged to complain to YouTube administrators that the video contains “hateful or abusive content” that “promotes hatred or violence” against religious groups, according to the campaign's website.
In a recent post, the popular Saudi blogger Saudijeans posed the question of whether initiatives like NaqaTube can survive.
"Although I never thought that building Arabic/Islamic alternatives to popular Internet services is exactly a good idea, I find myself today not minding it very much. More choices to the people is not a bad thing, I guess. But I still wonder about the prospects of these projects. ... Is this a sustainable business model? Can these alternatives survive the competition by focusing on such specific niches?" Saudijeans wrote.
In response to the post, commentator Saleema aired support for the launch of NaqaTube.
"There is nothing wrong in having NaqaTube. What’s wrong if some decent guy is trying to make a website where indecent ... videos are not available? If people like YouTube, they can still go and visit it and others who don’t have a better option. If nobody criticizes YouTube for showing whatever they like, why criticize Naqatube?" she wrote.
Commentator Norvegica on the other hand said the project is simply a waste of time and money.
"It’s only there so that unhip people can feel better about their inability to deal with videos like adults," read the comment.
Saudi Arabia is one of the leading Internet censors in the Middle East, blocking material such as pornography, gambling and politics.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Video: A Koranic reading with English subtitles. Credit: NaqaTube. Photo: A detail from the NaqaTube website.