The expansion of Internet access across the Middle East and North Africa will open communications channels for marginalized social and political groups, including those that criticize the Islamic faith, potentially sparking a culture war across the Muslim world, according to a new report.

In the long-term Internet penetration in the region is likely to lead to a more open society, but experts predict the short-term effects would include backlash from conservative forces who fear an attack on their beliefs. This could give rise to new jihadist groups.

The Internet has already facilitated interaction between marginalized groups in the region. In 2011, a regional nonprofit group launched the first online forum for LGBT individuals in the Middle East and North Africa. The site was a direct challenge to societies where homosexuality is criminalized, even punished by death in countries including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran.

The report, published in Foreign Affairs earlier this month, predicted the Internet will amplify discussions critical of Islam and lead to an increase in the number of secularists and atheists.

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