x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Politics dominates tweets in the Middle East

List of region's 50 most influential Twitter users puts UAE's Sultan Al Qassemi on top.

Lara Setrakian, an ABC news reporter based in Dubai, has the third highest following on Twitter in the UAE.
Lara Setrakian, an ABC news reporter based in Dubai, has the third highest following on Twitter in the UAE.

ABU DHABI// Politics dominates the virtual conversation among the Middle East’s most influential Twitter users.

The communications consultancy Portland analysed three months of data from the social network to determine the region’s 50 “most connected” Twitter users.

The UAE’s Sultan Al Qassemi, a commentator and writer, topped the list. Journalist Dima Khatib, based in Qatar, came second.

The largest proportion of the top-50 were based in Egypt.

Other UAE figures to make the list included Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A survey of the most connected users found that 78 per cent mainly discussed politics, while 67 per cent shared national news. About one third tweeted on their personal life.

“Twitterati” who attended a panel discussion about the study yesterday said it was no surprise that Mr Al Qassemi – who has nearly 150,000 followers – was the most influential.

“He’s been very active most recently on the events around the region,” said Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of twofour54, Abu Dhabi’s media zone.

However, the study distinguished between popularity and influence by mapping the connections between users. Portland worked with the media platform Tweetminster to compile “back-end” data from the website, said Mark Flanagan, Portland’s partner for digital communications.

The analysis considered the number of followers, but also weighed whether their content was followed and “re-tweeted” by other people with many followers.

“Sultan Al Qassemi ... is someone who is not just influential on Twitter, but someone who’s connected to other top influencers in the Middle East,” Mr Flanagan said. “His voice is carrying way beyond his home territory.”

Overall, 38 per cent of the top-50 were commentators and activists, while 36 per cent were journalists. About one fifth of the top-50 were government officials or politicians.

“There are also religious figures,” Mr Flanagan said.

Zaid Belbagi, business development manager for Portland, said: “There are certain people you can tweet religious questions at. I think it’s what you’d call a twitter fatwa, almost.”

During the discussion yesterday, the panellists said Twitter is an important tool for governments.

“For the government to join the twitter-sphere, it’s crucial,” Ms Al Kaabi said.

Social media can fill the gap between rulers and their people as populations grow, Mr Belbagi said.

“These are no longer regions where people can see their rulers every Friday,” he said.

“The use of Twitter does a lot to endear rulers and governments to the people.”

Michael Corbin, United States ambassador to the UAE, asked the panellists about the idea that Twitter highlights sectarian and political tensions.

“Some people are suggesting that Twitter is increasing tensions in the Middle East,” Mr Corbin said. “I’m a firm believer that Twitter is revealing and spreading the tensions that exist, not creating them.”

Ms Al Kaabi agreed. “I hear more people say Twitter is causing too many problems,” she said. “I think we should stop looking at Twitter and look at the problem.”

Ms Al Kaabi said she understood why politics is a main topic of conversation on Twitter.

“It’s a subject that anyone can talk about ... this is where people tend to speculate and tell stories,” she said.

She urged Twitter users to slow down, think and listen, especially before spreading unverified news.

“Twitter is not to be blamed,” said audience member Thabet Al Qaissieh. “It’s a tool, and how people use that tool.”

Still, he said: “There’s a certain degree of social irresponsibility on behalf of a variety of people.”

Mohamed Al Awadhi, the co-founder of Wild Peeta Shawarma, pointed out that Twitter has given a public voice to many people who lacked one before. “Freedom of speech, more than a privilege, is also a responsibility,” he said.



Top 50 most connected Twitter users in the Middle East

1- Sultan Al Qassemi  (UAE) @SultanAlQassemi

2- Dima Khatib (Qatar) @Dima_Khatib

3- Wael Ghonim (Egypt) @Ghonim

4- Mohamed El Baradei (Egypt) @ElBaradei

5- Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid (UAE) @HHShkMohd

6- Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain) @NABEELRAJAB

7- Rania Al Abdullah (Jordan) @QueenRania

8- Khalid Al Khalifa (Bahrain) @Khalidalkhalifa

9- Maryam Al Khawaja (Bahrain) @MARYAMALKHAWAJA

10- Turki Al Dakhil (Saudi Arabia) @TurkiAldakhil

11- Ahmed Al Omran (Saudi Arabia) @ahmed

12- Yosri Fouda (Egypt) @YosriFouda

13- Zaineb Al Khawaja (Bahrain) @angryarabiya

14- Saad Hariri (Lebanon) @HaririSaad

15- Mahmoud Salem (Egypt) @Sandmonkey

16- Alaa Abd El Fattah (Egypt) @alaa

17- Rima Maktabi (Saudi Arabia) @rimamaktabi

18- Gamal Eid (Egypt) @gamaleid

19- Salman Al Odah (Saudi Arabia) @salman_alodah

20- Sherine Tadros (Egypt) @SherineT

21- Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia) @JKhashoggi

22- Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt) @alaaaswany

23- Nabil El Araby (Egypt) @lassecgen

24- Najib Mikati (Lebanon) @najib_mikati

25- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Bahrain) @BahrainRights

26- Lara Setrakian (UAE) @Lara

27- Ammo Hossam (Egypt) @3arabawy

28- Amr Hamzawy (Egypt) @HamzawyAmr

29- S. Yousif Al Muhafda (Bahrain) @SAIDYOUSIF

30- Imad Bazzi (Lebanon) @TrellaLB

31- Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed (UAE) @ABZayed

32- Naguib Sawiris (Egypt) @NaguibSawiris

33- Ministry of Interior (Bahrain) @moi_bahrain

34- Mansoor Al Jamri (Bahrain) @MANSOOR_ALJAMRI

35- Mazen Mahdi (Bahrain) @MazenMahdi

36- Waleed Abu Al Khair (Saudi Arabia) @abualkhair

37- Mona Kareem (Kuwait) @monakareem

38- Ahmed Al Shugairi (Saudi Arabia) @shugairi

39- Eman Al Nafjan (Saudi Arabia) @Saudiwoman

40- Heba Raouf Ezzat (Egypt) @Dr_Heba_Raouf

41- Nawara Negm (Egypt) @nawaranegm

42- Mustapha Hamoui (Lebanon) @Beirutspring

43- Lyse Doucet (Egypt) @bbclysedoucet

44- Dr Bassem Youssef (Egypt) @DrBassemYoussef

45- Matar Matar (Bahrain) @Matar_Matar

46- Ayman Nour (Egypt) @AymanNour

47- Manal Al Sharif (Saudi Arabia) @manal_alsharif

48- Reem Khalifa (Bahrain) @Reem_Khalifa

49- Wael Khalil (Egypt) @wael

50- Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (Egypt) @DrAbolfotoh