Djamila Ould Khettab
Last updated: 16 July, 2012

Arab countries: The new Eldorado of the social networks?

For the last two years, the web 2.0 has developed in the Arab countries at an unprecedented speed. In the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, Arabic is set to become the main language of the social networks in the region.

Social networks are undeniably the current craze in Tunisia and Egypt, where popular revolts toppled two long-lasting dictatorships in 2011. And the wave is continuing to spread throughout Northwest Africa and the Middle East.

The total number of Arab Facebook users stood at 36 millions in November 2011, having almost doubled since November 2010, according to the Arab Social Media Report, published by the Dubai School of Government. A quarter of those users come from Egypt. Overall, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have the most active populations on Twitter.

Between September 2011-May 2012, 60 million tweets were posted on Twitter in Bahrain alone, while 393 000 Saudi Arabian users have sent about 50 millions tweets. In the meantime, the number of Twitter users rose by 208% in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the highest increase in the region. The Kingdom’s impressive development of the web 2.0 illustrates a social divide between the ageing political elite in power and the younger generation, typically very keen on high technology and trendy gadgets.

Though only 1/3 of Facebook users are women in the Arab world, they are very active in social media, the Arab Social Media Report said. Despite the gender gap – women constitute roughly half of the users globally – social networks are considered an important tool of women empowerment in the Arab world.

According to some observers, the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East heavily relied on the Internet and social media to accelerate popular protests in the early stages. Well-known examples are the Facebook page that called for Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa of Bahrain to resign in February 2011 as well as the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said”, which helped spark the Egyptian revolution.

Top ten Twitter topics globally in 2011 included the “resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak” and the “killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi”, reported the Dubai School of Government. The hashtag #Bahrain was mentioned approximately 510,000 times across the Arab countries in September 2011.

Twitter and Facebook, the two leaders of social media, intend to benefit from the political and social changes in the region. The microblogging website launched its Arabic version in March 2012, followed two months later by Facebook, which opened an office in Dubai. Facebook usage in the Arab world is growing at such a rate that Arabic is set to overtake English as the most popular language used on social networks in the Middle East.