Impact of Social Media in the Middle East

This piece was originally published on the Saxum Perspective Blog.

Last month, I was invited to speak with a group of South Asian students visiting The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Oklahoma. The workshop was about new media and its impact on democracies in the 21st century. I met with 20 students from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Naturally, the Arab Spring was a major topic of discussion.

According to the Arab Social Media Report, at the end of the first quarter of 2011, there were 27.7 million Facebook users in the Arab world, a 30 percent jump from the beginning of the year.

In particular, youth between 15 and 29 account for around 70 percent of Arab Facebook users. Women constitute a third of users across the region. The number of active Twitter users (users who tweeted at least once every two weeks) in the Arab world during the same period was over 1.1 million. These active users generated more than 22.7 million tweets. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon are the leading five countries in the region in social media growth during the social unrest (according to the percentage of Facebook and Twitter users).

Facebook users in Tunisia and Egypt found that six out of 10 respondents in both countries indicated that blocking access provided a boost to movements, spurring protesters to more decisive and creative action. Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated social media was used mainly for 1) organizing people, 2) disseminating information and 3) raising awareness about the social movements.

Turkey continues to lead the region in the number of users, while Egypt saw the highest increase in the number of users during the first quarter of 2011 among Arab countries, adding close to two million Facebook users.

Recently, I helped coordinate communications for the Four Star Debate program (client), a leadership and debate program for 44 of the brightest high school students from across the nation and Jordan.

Four Star Debate: Developing Leaders with General Tommy Franks is hosted by the General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum, the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Academy of Leadership & Liberty at Oklahoma Christian University.

During the week-long program, the students traveled to Hobart, Oklahoma to visit with General Tommy Frank’s and tour his museum. They were surprised with a visit from King Abdullah II of Jordan. His Majesty King Abdullah, who is a close friend of Gen. Franks, made the unofficial trip to speak with the students.

In particular, he took the opportunity to speak with students about the “Arab Spring,” which he defined as a democratic movement driven by young leaders. The king also stressed on the important role social media is playing in Arab states. He cited his wife, Queen Rania, as an example of how social media is being used to engage and interact with people.

He said there is no doubt social media will play a big role on the future generation of leaders in the Middle East. I can’t help but agree, and I encourage everyone to keep an eye on these social channels and watch how they will continue to revolutionize the world.

Submitted by Houda Elyazgi. Elyazgi is a senior account executive at Saxum Public Relations in Oklahoma City. Elyazgi manages several accounts, conducts research, writes and develops campaign strategies and plans special events for clients. Elyazgi graduated with distinctions from The University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis in public relations and a minor in Arabic. She is currently a member of the board of directors of United Way of Norman.

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