Young Lebanese surf the web at an internet cafe in Beirut. Across the Arab world, there are more than 55 million Facebook users. Nabil Mounzer / EPA
Young Lebanese surf the web at an internet cafe in Beirut. Across the Arab world, there are more than 55 million Facebook users. Nabil Mounzer / EPA

Facebook, Twitter and other social media give a voice to those with a message



When the internet was eventually introduced in the region in the 1990s, primarily as an aid to commercial and economic development, many were sceptical.

One Iraqi newspaper, al-Jamhuriyya, in 1997 went as far as denouncing it as "an American means to enter every house in the world … and the end of civilisations, cultures, interest and ethics".

Today, the Arab world accounts for about 4 per cent of the world’s internet population and its users are some of the most active, particularly on social media websites. In fact, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is among the fastest-growing market for the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

As of the end of last year, Twitter had some 240 million active monthly users, of which 6 per cent are in Mena. According to Statista, Saudi Arabia ranks top globally in terms of active users on Twitter, followed by Indonesia, Spain and Venezuela. Thirty-three per cent of all internet users in Saudi are active users of Twitter, accounting for 4.1 per cent of the social network's global user database.

Of the 500 million tweets posted daily worldwide, about 10 million are from the Arab World according to the Arab Social Media Report and almost of them originate from Saudi Arabia.

Across the Arab world, there are more than 55 million Facebook users. The UAE has the highest Facebook penetration rate in the region at 42 per cent, followed by Jordan, Lebanon and Qatar, while Egyptian users are the most active.

In some traditionally conservative societies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, there is censorship of mainstream media and online content. So it may come as a surprise that Saudi Arabians are tweeting ferociously, while Egyptians are “poking” one another and organising rallies via the network.

“Social media has grown into a multi-faceted platform and therefore getting more entrenched into day-to-day lives,” says Paul Black, the director of telecoms and media at International Data Corporation (IDC) Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

“Typically in societies such as [Saudi Arabia], there are limited avenues for entertainment,” he says.

“Hence, social media has been filling the gaps. The growing reliance on social media for expressing views, finding jobs and accessing public information has resulted in a phenomenal growth of social media platforms in the region.”

With a high youth population that is tech-savvy and willing to spend money on the latest gadgets, social media applications have thrived in this part of the world.

Before the explosion of social media, lovelorn teenagers across the Middle East would turn to satellite music channels to text in their messages declaring their feelings. Today, such messages are exchanged on Facebook and Whatsapp, in a more private setting – an important consideration in countries where social taboos regarding relationships between men and women still remain.

Whatsapp is an instant messaging application bought by Facebook for $19 billion this month. Globally, 16-to-19 year-olds account for 25 per cent of Whatsapp’s 450 million users, of those 69 per cent are in the Middle East and Africa and 62 per cent in Latin America.

But it is not just teenage gossip that is fuelling the rise of social media. While Facebook has become a platform for relationship-building, Twitter is the place to acquire information. About 28 per cent of the region’s internet users access Twitter to source news.

“People are social animals, we are hardwired biologically to connect with one another,” says Pamela Rutledge, the director at Media Psychology Research Centre.

“Twitter is a place where people can experiment with identities, in the sense of putting forward information and ideas and entering conversations that are topical but not about relationship-building necessarily. The anonymity of the internet [enables] people to experiment with those ideas.”

It is also a way to express support for – or dissatisfaction with – specific events or initiatives.

When Saudi Arabia announced an initiative to provide affordable housing last month, thousands took to Twitter to voice criticism against the housing ministry. Some Saudi women are using the platform to highlight their plight. One group, which included the activist Manal Al Sharif, started the #women2drive hashtag in 2011 to encourage others to take the wheel and hit the roads in protest at the driving ban imposed on women.

“Twitter has been wonderful especially for people who are more progressive thinkers. It’s the only place where we can exchange informations and ideas. We do not have civil society or public places where we can meet and talk with an exchange of ideas,” says Madeha Al Ajroush, a Saudi-based psychotherapist and activist on Twitter. “The women movement has used Twitter for campaigns and spreading out ideas and it’s the only or it is the best and successful way to communicate. Social media has opened up for the younger generation, they are opened to different point of view not only locally but internationally.”

The anonymity of the internet and the openness to express views has made it a viable mode of communication not just among the public. Political figures have signed up to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in a bid to connect with their citizens and openly address their concerns. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, has more than 660,000 followers on Instagram, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has more than 2.59 million followers on Twitter.

But it is not just political figures who are signing up. These platforms have become a vital tool for companies to interact with their customers and advertise their brands.

“Social and business figures are mainly on Twitter, we have noticed this by practice and managing clients,” says Imad Lahad, the director of digital strategy of the Arab region at Apco Worldwide, where part of his job is to identify key figures within the “Twittersphere” known as “influencers”.

From bloggers, fashionistas and entertainers, companies and brands approach these influencers help to raise awareness of a particular issue, service or product. Some influencers such as Joelle Mardinian, a make-up artist and TV presenter who is also the creative director at Max Factor, become official brand ambassadors, relaying the benefits of a product they have been sponsored to promote.

“Outreach programmes should be done to engage rather than being financially rewarded,” says Mr Lahad.

“In the fashion and beauty industry we see a lot of fashionistas and they are the brand themselves. They use different products to showcase, this is what they do for a living and their business. They endorse brands instead of the company going to TV or someone else.”

And there are sound business reasons to take to the twittersphere and suchlike. It is not only cheaper than traditional advertising but can be more effective in targeting the right demographic with just a few tweets and likes.

thamid@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights

In-demand jobs and monthly salaries
  • Technology expert in robotics and automation: Dh20,000 to Dh40,000 
  • Energy engineer: Dh25,000 to Dh30,000 
  • Production engineer: Dh30,000 to Dh40,000 
  • Data-driven supply chain management professional: Dh30,000 to Dh50,000 
  • HR leader: Dh40,000 to Dh60,000 
  • Engineering leader: Dh30,000 to Dh55,000 
  • Project manager: Dh55,000 to Dh65,000 
  • Senior reservoir engineer: Dh40,000 to Dh55,000 
  • Senior drilling engineer: Dh38,000 to Dh46,000 
  • Senior process engineer: Dh28,000 to Dh38,000 
  • Senior maintenance engineer: Dh22,000 to Dh34,000 
  • Field engineer: Dh6,500 to Dh7,500
  • Field supervisor: Dh9,000 to Dh12,000
  • Field operator: Dh5,000 to Dh7,000
The specs: 2018 Jeep Compass

Price, base: Dh100,000 (estimate)

Engine: 2.4L four-cylinder

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Power: 184bhp at 6,400rpm

Torque: 237Nm at 3,900rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 9.4L / 100km

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Bridgerton season three - part one

Directors: Various

Starring: Nicola Coughlan, Luke Newton, Jonathan Bailey

Rating: 3/5

Dunki

Director: Rajkumar Hirani 

Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Vikram Kochhar and Anil Grover

Rating: 4/5

Oppenheimer

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon

Rating: 5/5

Mina Cup winners

Under 12 – Minerva Academy

Under 14 – Unam Pumas

Under 16 – Fursan Hispania

Under 18 – Madenat

SPECS

Engine: Two-litre four-cylinder turbo
Power: 235hp
Torque: 350Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Price: From Dh167,500 ($45,000)
On sale: Now

Profile of RentSher

Started: October 2015 in India, November 2016 in UAE

Founders: Harsh Dhand; Vaibhav and Purvashi Doshi

Based: Bangalore, India and Dubai, UAE

Sector: Online rental marketplace

Size: 40 employees

Investment: $2 million

AL BOOM

Director:Assad Al Waslati

Starring: Omar Al Mulla, Badr Hakami and Rehab Al Attar

Streaming on: ADtv

Rating: 3.5/5

The Beekeeper

Director: David Ayer 

Starring: Jason Statham, Josh Hutcherson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Minnie Driver, Jeremy Irons

Rating: 3/5

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Company name: Play:Date

Launched: March 2017 on UAE Mother’s Day

Founder: Shamim Kassibawi

Based: Dubai with operations in the UAE and US

Sector: Tech 

Size: 20 employees

Stage of funding: Seed

Investors: Three founders (two silent co-founders) and one venture capital fund

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

SPEC SHEET: APPLE M3 MACBOOK AIR (13")

Processor: Apple M3, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Midnight, silver, space grey, starlight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599

Look north

BBC business reporters, like a new raft of government officials, are being removed from the national and international hub of London and surely the quality of their work must suffer.

Specs

Power train: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and synchronous electric motor
Max power: 800hp
Max torque: 950Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Battery: 25.7kWh lithium-ion
0-100km/h: 3.4sec
0-200km/h: 11.4sec
Top speed: 312km/h
Max electric-only range: 60km (claimed)
On sale: Q3
Price: From Dh1.2m (estimate)

Our legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

MATCH INFO

What: 2006 World Cup quarter-final
When: July 1
Where: Gelsenkirchen Stadium, Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Result:
England 0 Portugal 0
(Portugal win 3-1 on penalties)

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

UAE Warriors 45 Results

Main Event : Lightweight Title
Amru Magomedov def Jakhongir Jumaev - Round 1 (submission)
Co-Main Event : Bantamweight
Rany Saadeh def Genil Franciso - Round 2 (submission)
Catchweight 150 lbs
Walter Cogliandro def Ali Al Qaisi - Round 1 (TKO)
Bantamweight
Renat Khavalov def Hikaru Yoshino - Round 2 (TKO)
Flyweight
Victor Nunes def Nawras Abzakh - Round 1 (TKO)
Flyweight
Yamato Fujita def Sanzhar Adilov - Round 1 (submission)
Lightweight
Abdullo Khodzhaev def Petru Buzdugen - Round 1 (TKO)
Catchweight 139 lbs
Razhabali Shaydullaev def Magomed Al-Abdullah - Round 2 (submission)
Flyweight
Cong Wang def Amena Hadaya - Points (unanimous decision)
Middleweight
Khabib Nabiev def Adis Taalaybek Uulu - Round 2 (submission)
Light Heavyweight
Bartosz Szewczyk def Artem Zemlyakov - Round 2 (TKO)

'Panga'

Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Starring Kangana Ranaut, Richa Chadha, Jassie Gill, Yagya Bhasin, Neena Gupta

Rating: 3.5/5

How to play the stock market recovery in 2021?

If you are looking to build your long-term wealth in 2021 and beyond, the stock market is still the best place to do it as equities powered on despite the pandemic.

Investing in individual stocks is not for everyone and most private investors should stick to mutual funds and ETFs, but there are some thrilling opportunities for those who understand the risks.

Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank, says the 20 best-performing US and European stocks have delivered an average return year-to-date of 148 per cent, measured in local currency terms.

Online marketplace Etsy was the best performer with a return of 330.6 per cent, followed by communications software company Sinch (315.4 per cent), online supermarket HelloFresh (232.8 per cent) and fuel cells specialist NEL (191.7 per cent).

Mr Garnry says digital companies benefited from the lockdown, while green energy firms flew as efforts to combat climate change were ramped up, helped in part by the European Union’s green deal. 

Electric car company Tesla would be on the list if it had been part of the S&P 500 Index, but it only joined on December 21. “Tesla has become one of the most valuable companies in the world this year as demand for electric vehicles has grown dramatically,” Mr Garnry says.

By contrast, the 20 worst-performing European stocks fell 54 per cent on average, with European banks hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic, while cruise liners and airline stocks suffered due to travel restrictions.

As demand for energy fell, the oil and gas industry had a tough year, too.

Mr Garnry says the biggest story this year was the “absolute crunch” in so-called value stocks, companies that trade at low valuations compared to their earnings and growth potential.

He says they are “heavily tilted towards financials, miners, energy, utilities and industrials, which have all been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic”. “The last year saw these cheap stocks become cheaper and expensive stocks have become more expensive.” 

This has triggered excited talk about the “great value rotation” but Mr Garnry remains sceptical. “We need to see a breakout of interest rates combined with higher inflation before we join the crowd.”

Always remember that past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Last year’s winners often turn out to be this year’s losers, and vice-versa.

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Floward
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Founders: Abdulaziz Al Loughani and Mohamed Al Arifi
Sector: E-commerce
Total funding: About $200 million
Investors: Aljazira Capital, Rainwater Partners, STV and Impact46
Number of employees: 1,200

'Peninsula'

Stars: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Ra

Director: ​Yeon Sang-ho

Rating: 2/5

If you go

The flights

There are direct flights from Dubai to Sofia with FlyDubai (www.flydubai.com) and Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com), from Dh1,164 and Dh822 return including taxes, respectively.

The trip

Plovdiv is 150km from Sofia, with an hourly bus service taking around 2 hours and costing $16 (Dh58). The Rhodopes can be reached from Sofia in between 2-4hours.

The trip was organised by Bulguides (www.bulguides.com), which organises guided trips throughout Bulgaria. Guiding, accommodation, food and transfers from Plovdiv to the mountains and back costs around 170 USD for a four-day, three-night trip.

ASIAN RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP 2024

Results
Hong Kong 52-5 UAE
South Korea 55-5 Malaysia
Malaysia 6-70 Hong Kong
UAE 36-32 South Korea

Fixtures
Friday, June 21, 7.30pm kick-off: UAE v Malaysia
At The Sevens, Dubai (admission is free).
Saturday: Hong Kong v South Korea

Latest
Most Read
Top Videos