EDIT: I edited this fairly heavily such that some comments don't make sense. Sorry about that. If you came looking for advice PM me and I will be glad to help.

I'm an EA currently living in a Gulf/Arab country. I'm fairly knowledgeable about EA, so I thought that running a local group would be of high value. But I had some reservations due to some reasons. Namely

(1) I'm only 18, and not yet in college (Gap year). So I will probably be younger than other members. This means that they (potential EA's) may be less inclined to accept some of the ideas, thus risking "lock-in" of the idea that EA is for western-influenced kids.

(2) I'm not a citizen, but I'm Arabic, and there is some discrimination against foreigners.

(3) Lack of Arabic EA content, and the scarcity of English speakers here.

(4) I'm not religious, and I'm don't want to out myself. (which might be hard to avoid)

II. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS • Translate EA content to Arabic. (Falls into the problem of "lock in") • Write Saudi/Muslim-friendly content and hope that it affects some people to start local chapters. (Might be dishonest) • Wait till I'm in university and join a local group there. (What I plan to do)

I'm hoping to get tips and/or advice from EA's who are/were in a similar situation.

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17 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:38 PM

I would quite strongly recommend against lying and also strongly would recommend against anything that could give you the death penalty! I realize EAs are kind of intense, but that seems far over the line. Please do not engage inactivities that could directly put yourself in danger.

It sounds like you're in a challenging situation. I could definitely empathize with that and for others in similar situations.

One thing to consider may be that if creating an EA group may come with so many local disadvantages, it may mean that even once you do create it, it may continue to have severe limits to growth, limiting its potential anyway.

I think I'd encourage you to feel fine not contributing anything useful right away, but instead focus efforts on your long-term efforts. Learning a lot and doing work to secure a great career can go a long way, though it will of course take a while and can be frustrating for that reason. I know 80,000 Hours has written a lot about topics related to this.

Also, I'm not sure if you used a pseudonym here, but I hope you did. I'd suggest being pretty wary of posting some details like that online, I would imagine they could easily be found later on if you did anything along those lines.

As an addendum, if you did not use a pseudonym, please ask one of the moderators or admins to change your name on this forum and/or delete this post.

Due to concerns noted by other commenters, I've temporarily changed the author's name. (I think it's likely that the name was a pseudonym that would leave them difficult to identify, but I wanted to be careful nonetheless.)

I've contacted the author to figure out how we should proceed from here.

(Update: I've changed the name to a new pseudonym the author requested.)

Becoming successful + established in Saudi Arabia whilst remaining EA-aligned could be v impactful. https://80000hours.org/career-guide/career-capital

Definitely apply to Tyler Cowen's Emergent Ventures: https://www.mercatus.org/emergentventures

Your situation has the makings of a highly competitive application, and he'd be an excellent funder/patron.

(If you apply, make sure your "grant application in a tweet" answer is strong, as that's the most important part of the application. Also I'm happy to take a look at a draft of your application if that'd be helpful; you can reach me at the email given here.)

Whether or not you go this route, you might also want to talk to Lama, a rationalist-adjacent Saudi student who was in the last Emergent Ventures cohort. She might be able to give you some advice and connect you to any existing Saudi community. You can find her at https://lamaalrajih.com

Thanks, I've sent her an email.

(UPDATE: She does not know any EA's in Saudi.)

Maybe try to create an EA Saudi Arabia social media group and see if you can find people that way. That would allow you to find others who are already interested in EA while staying anonymous.

One potential high impact activity might be to research how best to spread EA ideas in the Muslim world, and how EA should interact with the faith.

FYI it looks like the Saudi government probably monitors Facebook & Twitter:


Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are widely used in Saudi Arabia, with nearly 30 percent of Arab region Twitter users from Saudi. Twitter has become an important platform for expressing dissent.
However, liberal citizens, and more recently conservatives, have been arrested and sometimes given punishments, such as prison time and fines, for criticizing the government on social media.
The government has been reported to have a hand in utilizing bots and human "trolls" in order to minimize the work of its critics on Twitter. Saudi was also accused of infiltrating Twitter through a Saudi employee that joined the company in 2013 but was put on leave two years later after the potential plot was brought to the attention of Twitter.

Yeah, I think I will stick with self-improvement for now. It seems to me that almost everything too public will have great risks. Hopefully, a more traditional EA could be able to make EA more visible within the community. Thanks for the help.

Sounds good, best of luck with that! Writing posts on the EA forum or LessWrong on things you find interesting and partaking in the conversation can be a good way of getting up to speed and getting comfortable with ongoing research efforts.

I imagine that there should be ways to minimize the risks by remaining anonymous, using a VPN and avoiding any "controversial" topics, though I agree that one should be extremely careful with this.

I just want to point out that this seems very, very difficult to me, and I would not recommend trusting "being safe" unless you really have no other choice.

I know of multiple very smart people who have tried to stay anonymous, got caught, and bad things happened. (For instance, read many books on "top hackers")

Far from me the idea that anyone do anything dangerous. But EA in itself doesn't seem really controversial or dangerous to talk about. In fact, EA Dubai has a public Facebook group and UAE laws aren't that different from Saudi laws. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1728710337347189/

And here is a EA Middle East group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1076904819058029/

On a meta level, it would be nice if there was some more general advice on this. Even though EA outreach to authoritarian countries is generally viewed as a bad idea (see here), we cannot help that at least some people in these countries will learn about EA and will want to communicate and contribute in some way.