Twitter and politics in the Middle East – Arab political figures on Twitter

Following on from a previous post on the top religious figures in Saudi Arabia using Twitter I’m profiling a couple of the most prolific political and governmental officials and rulers in the Gulf.

If you’re looking for a good resource on global political movers and shakers then check out the Twiplomacy report by global PR agency Burson-Marsteller. There’s some interesting insights here, though I hope the below snapshot will give you a little more information on the Middle East region in particular.

So here’s the top five six countdown. I could add a lot more and I hopefully will do over time.

1. Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

Jordan’s Queen Rania is the most popular political figure in the region with over two million followers.

The most popular political figure on Twitter is not based in the Gulf, but rather on the Arabian Peninsula’s periphery. Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah is without a doubt the most popular government-related figure in the Middle East (I saw government as her husband King Abdullah II is the head of state). To date she has amassed two and a quarter million Twitter followers. The Queen usually tweets about charitable issues which she is involved in or supports, such as education, healthcare, and youth-related schemes. Queen Rania also has a YouTube channel and Facebook site as well as her own website at http://www.queenrania.jo.

Queen Rania has used social media to engage in conversation. The best known example is a campaign launched in 2008 entitled Send me your Stereotypes. The Queen asked people to send her their questions about Islam and the Arab world. She talked about topics such as honour killings, terrorism and women in the Middle East.

Queen Rania started using Twitter in the Spring of 2009 and she has occasionally used the site to answer questions from followers. She is not a prolific user of Twitter (having sent 845 tweets her account averages less than a tweet a day), and her engagement and communications are spread across all of her social media channels. Queen Rania messages in English primarily rather than Arabic.

2. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammed passed the one million mark on Twitter at the end of July 2012

The ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has a large following on Twitter through which he disseminates information on Dubai’s economic development, charitable initiatives, and (sometimes) religion.

Sheikh Mohammed often writes in Arabic to address issues which are important to UAE nationals. In addition to his twitter feed there’s a Facebook site which was set up in June 2009 and has over 600k likes and a more recent Youtube page which was set up in February of this year but which already has 580 thousand video views.

Sheikh Mohammed tweets on average less than once a day (he posts at approximately the same rate as Queen Rania and has posted to date 862 tweets) but he does retweet fairly often (once every 9.1 Tweets). An avid horse racer, the Sheikh does talk about his passion for racing as well as the environment.

3. Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud

Abdul Aziz Bin Fahad is an avid user of Twitter and has written just under 5,500 tweets in 10 months.

The claimed twitter account of the youngest (and it’s always claimed the favourite) son of Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has only been active since November of last year but already has 637 thousand followers. The account, which hasn’t been verified by Twitter, is supposedly owned by Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud (the account is his initials followed by his birth year).

While not in government, as a son of Saudi Arabia’s previous king Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud wields considerable influence in the Kingdom both through his family as well as his various assets. He owns half of MBC, the Middle East’s largest broadcaster, as well as other investments both regionally and globally. Abdul Aziz was previously head of the Diwan of the Council of Ministers in the Saudi government.

Tweeting exclusively in Arabic Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud talks about both the mundane (for example sending holiday greetings to followers) to voicing his support for the Saudi King (and his uncle) Abdullah. Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud has written about controversial topics such as trying to stop the broadcasting of MBC’s latest Ramadan blockbuster Omar, which was based on the life of the Prophet’s companion Omar Bin Al-Khattab, as well as allegations of excess leveled against him by others using Twitter.

On average Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud writes twenty tweets a day and regularly engages with followers.

4. Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan

Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan engages more with followers on Twitter on a daily basis than any other minister in the region

The UAE’s Foreign Minister is another avid Twitterer. Despite only having joined the social media site in November 2011 Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan has written over 7,600 tweets at a rate of 24 a day.

Writing in Arabic Sheikh Abdullah focuses on national and regional issues related to the UAE such as the Abu Mousa island dispute between the UAE and Iran as well as more general topics such as religion and culture.

Sheikh Abdullah often engages with his audience which is mainly UAE and GCC nationals and retweets every 2.5 tweets. Over half of Sheikh Abdullah’s tweets are replies to followers.

5. Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai

Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai is a controversial figure in Kuwaiti politics both for his views as well as his use of Twitter

One of Kuwait’s most colourful politicians, Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai is a conservative Islamist (Salafist) member of parliament who has attracted controversy for many of his views (which he frequently expresses via his unverified Twitter account). Dr Al-Tabtabai talks most frequently about Kuwaiti and regional politics with his 227 thousand plus followers which he has built up since joining Twitter in November 2010.

Dr Al-Tabtabai was at the center of a legal case when he posted screenshots of a Kuwaiti national’s Twitter page and demanded the man be arrested for what were described as “insulting tweets of the Sunni sect and severe criticism and insults to the Saudi and Bahraini regimes for their stand against the Bahraini protests.”

The case was one of the first in the Gulf to see someone being prosecuted for airing their views on Twitter. However, as a parliamentarian Dr Al-Tabtabai enjoys immunity from public prosecution.

On average Dr Al-Tabtabai writes 7.3 tweets per day in Arabic and retweets every 2.2 Tweets.

6. Khalid ibn Ahmed Al Khalifa

Diplomat, Ambassador, Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Bon Vivant… Khalid Al khalifa is many things on Twitter

With possibly the best Twitter bio of any politician in the Middle East and over nine thousand tweets sent it’s maybe no surprise that Bahrain’s Foreign Minister has been so active on Twitter. Khalid Al Khalifa has had to contend with the diplomatic consequences of Bahrain’s security policies following a year and a half of demonstrations against the government.

The Foreign Minister is one of Bahrain’s most outspoken figures online and uses his Twitter feed to talk about government policy as well as to promote the Bahraini government’s point of view overseas as well as at home.

Khalid Al Khalifa also tweets on issues not related to Bahrain such as regional politics, and frequently talks about his travels and his meetings with other politicians. He also frequently uploads pictures to his Twitter account. The Minister retweets every 5.4 tweets and writes in both English and Arabic.

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