Shock and Awe: What is happening to the Gulf’s Media?

The Gulf is known for many things, but a controversial media isn’t one of them. The region’s media are known for not causing a stir, and for generally towing the line. There are exceptions – some local, Arabic-language radio stations in the Gulf host phone-in shows. One of them didn’t go so well. Here’s the story from The National newspaper.

It was a call for help from a man who couldn’t afford to provide for his family that was cruelly batted down by a prominent radio host.

But in the 24-hours that followed, Ali Al Mazrouei witnessed a justice of sorts when the radio jockey was suspended and his plight was heard in person by the leaders of the country.

The 56-year-old, a father of nine, spoke of his struggle to get by on a relatively low salary and a large family.

When he phoned Ajman Radio’s morning talk show Al Rabia Wal Nas on Thursday, he tried to highlight what rising living costs meant for families like his.

“The expensive prices are a big problem; everything is too expensive, including fuel, and the income is low,” he said.

“We want to provide for our children but we can’t buy anything; when one cannot make his children happy what is the point of living?”

When he spoke of inflation and the cost of basic goods, the show’s co-host Yaqoub Al Awadhi interrupted him to say there “there are retired people whose salaries are Dh10,000 and even used to be Dh7,000″ before the government raised payments.

The anchor went on to suggest that someone who could not live on that amount must have poor skills in managing finances and does not appreciate what he has.

Mr Al Mazrouei responded to say he does not spend money on anything other than his basic needs…

“We want to do good, when we see someone like us, we pray for him and we try to help when we find someone poor like us,” he said.

The radio host replied: “Don’t give anyone anything, just hold your tongue.”

“I don’t accept that you defame my country and say the people are all suffering.

“The salary you receive is from where? Where do you feed your children from? This all doesn’t deserve gratitude?”.

Mr Al Mazrouei responded that “I am an original national of this country, I am a Mazrouei,” as the host started to mumble, “where did you appear in front of me now from?” an expression in Arabic indicating an unpleasant encounter with someone.

The ill-tempered exchange continued for some time.

When news of the argument reached Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Crown Prince of Ajman, he ordered the suspension of host Yaqoub Al Awadhi.

On Tuesday, Mr Al Mazrouei was received by the Crown Prince and the Ruler of Ajman, Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ordered that his situation be looked at immediately and his family helped.

Speaking to The National, the father-of-nine said: “This was the first time that I decided to raise this issue, because life was starting to close its doors in our faces. Instead of just worrying in vain every day I decided to take a proactive step.”

He said he does not want the host to lose his job.

“He jumped from topic to topic [when attacking me], it was so strange, but I say, may Allah guide him.

The second incident comes from Saudi, where a presenter on Bidaya TV told one of his guests live on air that his father had died (the video is below). The reaction was universal condemnation online, with a campaign that criticized the station for manipulating emotions for ratings. BBC Arabic has a full report on the story (it’s in Arabic, of course). A number of the station’s employees were suspended.

There’s been a great deal of change in the Gulf’s media over the past year. Is this an example of the change in sentiment which readers may feel on political issues seeping into other parts of the media? I’m not sure. But it cannot be coincidence for two events to happen in such a short space of time in a region which rarely sees such incidents.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

How many followers have been lost by the Gulf’s Instagrammers?

Instagram has deleted millions of fake accounts, pulling down the follower numbers for many accounts in the Gulf (image source:

This week, photo-sharing app Instagram removed millions of accounts believed to be posting spam. The action, which has been dubbed the “Instagram Rapture”, hasn’t spared Instagrammers in the Gulf. Instagram is popular in the Gulf, particularly in Kuwait, where some Instagrammers have become celebrities in their own right and have turned the application into a living.

Globally, many of the world’s top 100 Instagram accounts have been hard hit by Instagram’s move to delete fake accounts. Figures released by developer Zach Allia have revealed that celebrities such as Justin Bieber lost over 3,500,000 followers.

So, how did our own Instagrammers do? For Kuwait, stats compiled by the website Kuwaitiful compare numbers before and after. Have a look below at the top accounts in Kuwait (not all are Kuwaiti based, mind you).

Before and after the Instagram purge in Kuwait. Some accounts have hardly been affected, while others have seen their follower numbers fall drastically (source: www.

Before and after the Instagram purge in Kuwait. Some accounts have hardly been affected, while others have seen their follower numbers fall drastically (source: www.

For Saudi and the UAE, I’ve gone to Social Insider which also compiled the numbers before and after. Again, we’re seeing a similar picture, with some accounts hardly affected, while others have lost a double-digit percentage of followers (apologies for the image size, but you can zoom into the image to read the numbers).

This list of Instagram accounts from Saudi and the UAE includes the numbers from before and after the purge. One account lost 40% of its followers (source: www.

This list of Instagram accounts from Saudi and the UAE includes the numbers from before and after the purge. One account lost 40% of its followers (source: www.

The reaction from celebrities in the US hasn’t been kind. Rapper Ma$e, who lost more than a million followers, deleted his account after being accused for buying followers. How will those celebrities in our region respond, especially the accounts which have lost over ten percent of their total follower numbers? Also, will this affect how much these Instagrammers are charging for posting paid content? It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on this one.

A Bentley and the Saudi pre-occupation with desert drives

A short but fun post for you. Saudis love their cars. And they love their desert driving. A typical weekend in Riyadh will involve a drive off the tarmac and into the desert.

Here’s what happens when two of Saudi’s favourite past times come together. Enjoy the video and remember, don’t drive the Bentley into the desert.

A female Saudi #graffiti artist? In Jeddah?

Jeddah is a remarkable place, a city of seven million souls which is the most diverse city in the Middle East bar none. There’s a phrase which is often used when talking about Jeddah, which is Jeddah ghrayr, or Jeddah is different/unique. Here’s one video which I spotted on my Tweetdeck from BBC journalist Gabriela Pomeroy (@gabrielapomeroy). The video, which has made the official selection for the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2012, gives us a brief insight into one young female Saudi artist who uses graffiti to express herself in Balad, the oldest part of Jeddah.

Did you ever think you’d be watching a video about a female Saudi graffiti artist who works in broad daylight, in Saudi Arabia? As they say, Jeddah ghrayr!

Paint The Way from Next Door Films on Vimeo.

Viral conversations – Saudi Women’s Forum streamed live with #womanforum hashtag

I often get asked about Saudi Arabia, about its people, customs and culture. But every so often you can get a glimpse into this magic kingdom and enjoy a peak at the real Saudi. Last week, on the 10th and 11th of December, the Saudi Center for Women’s Studies held a conference on women’s rights and responsibilities. For the first time I can remember for such an event, it was streamed live on the internet, including with commentary in English.

While I’d love to have a peak at the number of unique users on the site, social media activity in the Kingdom surged during the two days. Writing with the hashtag #womanforum Saudi and Arab nationals shared and commented on the views presented by the speakers (as this is Riyadh/Saudi women speakers did not share the same hall as the men and so were not visible in the video if you were wondering why there seemed to be no women at a women’s conference).

Most of the tweets and updates were in Arabic, but others did post in English.!/commitmentphobi/status/147175873446019073

The organizers of the event even used Facebook to upload pictures of the event and the speakers involved. If I can dig out the link I’ll add here.

Several days later in both English and Arabic media articles were published on the event. Here’s the link to the Arab News story, and the other for the Saudi Gazette piece.

While the media did pick up on important aspects of the event, the pieces were published several days after and lacked both the immediacy of the social media feeds as well as the cut and thrust of the debates online. With Saudi women and their rights being such an important topic in the Kingdom today, you’d have to ask if one article in a newspaper could do justice to the entire event.

As an addition to the above much of the argument for Saudi women working has been waged online. This is one video that was circulated this week using the womanforum hashtag. The video was uploaded in March but was circulated again this time round due to the renewed focus on women’s rights and work in Saudi. There’s nothing like a viral conversation, even in the magic kingdom.