They don't come much more outspoken than Bahraini blogger Mahmood Al Yousif, whose site Mahmood's Den (www.mahmood.tv) draws millions of visitors from around the world. Mr Al Yousif, also known as The Blogfather, was Bahrain's first blogger. He writes about international issues, local politics and himself. Recurring themes include family life, the antics of Bahrain's politicians and problems with religious extremism and sectarianism.
How long have you been blogging and how did you get into it?
Since 2001. I got into it simply to test Internet technologies I was helping develop together with over 40 programmers around the world. I made entries into the blog to test the system. Visitors to the site began commenting on the "posts" and Mahmood's Den took on a life of its own, surpassing all my expectations. It currently receives an average of four million hits, about 1.2m page views and around 175,000 unique sessions a month from people belonging to a wide cross-section of political and social backgrounds. I am thankful that, for the most part, they are courteous and genuinely interested in understanding this region.
What is your background and how did you become so politically outspoken?
By training I was an aviation electronics engineer. I've changed my career twice since and am now a businessman dealing in broadcast equipment and professional systems. To understand my outspokenness you have to understand what a blog is. It is basically a personal web-based diary or journal in which people record their thoughts and discuss issues they are interested in. My posts reflect my hopes and frustrations with Bahrain's socio-political environment, the apathy and insincerity of some parliamentarians and my frustration at the dogmatic interpretation of Islam by extremists, which has sullied its good name and is unrepresentative of its tolerance.
Are you pleased that the blogging scene has grown so rapidly?
I am always happy to welcome another blogger into the burgeoning Bahraini blogosphere. We are an active bunch with disparate backgrounds, ages and disciplines. The one thing we have in common is our passion for our convictions. Blogging is an excellent bridge between cultures and a popular way to disseminate "real" information, distanced from official channels and traditional news sources.
How did the handle 'The Blogfather' come about?
You have to thank my good friend Nader Shaheen for that honour. I have no idea what brought that term into his head while he was entering a comment a while ago; it seems to have stuck and was further perpetuated by another good friend Amira Al Hussaini. It does make me feel old, however!
Do you think that some of the blogs out there are being too negative?
A blog is a personal space. You cannot force that space's owner to be a good person if he or she doesn't want to. They will simply be shunned and forgotten if their writing does not hold any water, nor contributes positively or constructively to a situation. They will not be forgotten, however, if they receive unwarranted and heavy-handed attention from official channels. Experience has shown that closing down or restricting access to sites causes their popularity to skyrocket.
What does your family think about the blog? I understand that your daughter sometimes gets embarrassed when you write about them.
They've gotten used to it. Some people assume that by reading my writings that they know me personally and regard me as a friend - or enemy. I do not mind it, but unfortunately a minority extend that familiarity further by assuming that they know my wife, children and dogs too and expect them to reciprocate! By having the blog, I have gathered a number of new friends both in and out of Bahrain. They have given more value to my life and I am privileged to know them. One of those anonymous friends stopped me at Seef Mall a while ago and asked for my autograph. I know how celebrities feel now! Not an unpleasant experience and I was flattered by it.