How Twitter is helping to foster debate in the Middle East – #WhatisTheSolutionForLebanon & #ImHalfQatari

Despite social media’s reputation for negativity (and getting people jailed in our region), Twitter and other platforms are ideal for beginning and engaging in debate on social issues (image source: lawrencewray.files.wordpress.com)

What’s exciting about social media in today’s Middle East is how the medium is being used to promote conversations organically, and without prompting from any organization. Two examples of hashtag conversations about issues of national interest are #WhatisTheSolutionForLebanon and #ImHalfQatari.

According to the Beirut-based English-language newspaper the Daily Star, the Twitter-based conversation about Lebanon’s political issues began after a crackdown on terrorist cells across the country, which itself was spurred by three suicide bombings within the country. To quote the article:

“Don’t give visas upon airport arrival” was a very common response on the platform, alongside requests to “elect a president now” and “close off Lebanon’s borders.”

When it came to tweeting solutions to Lebanon’s pitfalls, Twitter users split between pessimists who believed that “there is no solution, Lebanon will never be a country,” and others who felt that certain recommendations would improve the situation.

LBCI reporter Yazbek Wehbe’s tweet expressed the view that “ Lebanon should remain neutral [with respect to] regional problems.”

One user suggested a fresh take on security raids by tweeting “[the ISF] should form a special raid unit comprised of Haifa Wehbe, Maya Diab, and Ammar Houry.”

The #ImHalfQatari hashtag was created by Dr. Amal Al-Malki, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. Dr Al-Malki is herself both Qatari, on her father’s side, and Lebanese, on her mother’s. She began the debate after reading an article in the Doha-based Arabic daily Al Raya that suggested Qatari men are increasingly marrying non-Qatari women due to inflated demands for dowries.

The article is excellent and is well worth a read on the state of cultural affairs both in Doha and the wider Gulf in general.

Social media has been criticized by many in the Gulf as a negative phenomenon that often harms both society and individuals. However, as these two hashtags show, Twitter and other social media platforms can be used to foster a positive dialogue about issues that need talking about.

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