The Middle East's new war

ElBaradei overtakes Queen Rania on Facebook.

May 16, 2010 19:48
3 minute read.
The Middle East's new war

Mohamed ElBaradei 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei become the most popular Arab political figure on Facebook, overtaking Jordan's Queen Rania's previously dominant position across global social networks.

ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is widely believe to be preparing a run for the Egyptian presidency in the country's upcoming elections. The only significant challenger to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), ElBaradei has made extensive use of online social networks to rally Egyptians behind him and generate interest in a potential run.

"There are around three million Egyptians on Facebook, so having about 5 percent of them" following a certain leader's page "is significant," said Gaith Saqer, founder and editor of ArabCrunch, which seeks to provide objective coverage of technology and social media in the Arab world. "We don't know whether or not the people following ElBaradei on Facebook support him, they may just want to see what's happening. But it also is possible that most people are supporters, and certainly the comments on his page support this idea."

Yet others say being popular on the Internet is no indication one can get elected. 

From presidents and prime ministers to a queen and dictators of all varieties, there has been an increasing penetration of Arab political leaders on Facebook profiles, blogs and 'tweets' popping up across the Middle East.

Launched only three months ago, ElBaradei has over 200,000 fans on Facebook at the time of writing. This is just a couple thousand more than Jordan's trendy and widely-admired Queen Rania, who was a trendsetter among Arab leaders trying to develop an online presence and still is by far the most popular 'tweeting' Arab leader.

"ElBaradei's page is in Arabic, not English, so he wants to reach the grassroots in Egypt about local issues," Saqer told The Media Line. "Queen Rania, on the other hand, [writes] in English, and she is addressing both local and global issues."

While ElBaradei has claimed the Arab world's Facebook crown, he is far behind the Jordanian queen on other social networks. He has almost 48,000 YouTube followers and only 7,000 followers on Twitter. This figure is chump change when compared to Queen Rania, who in less than a year has garnered more than 1.2 million Twitter followers by personally writing updates and posting pics, providing guarded personal insights into the Jordanian royal family's life.

While anyone can follow the queen, she follows only 57 'tweeters', among them: Bill Gates, Shakira, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Virgin's adventurist CEO Richard Branson, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, British chef Jamie Oliver, the BBC, Al Gore, The Onion, Katie Couric, Oprah, Time Magazine, NPR and the New York Times.

Queen Rania also boasts 198,000 fans on her Facebook profile and another 27,000 on her YouTube channel.

Many other Middle Eastern leaders have Facebook and Twitter identities, among them Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Libya's Muammar Al Gaddafi, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. It is not clear who has control over these identities. Queen Rania's Facebook page was originally set up by a fan, then taken over by the Queen herself.

Nabil Dajani, Chairman of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a professor of communications at the American University in Beirut, was skeptical that ElBaradei's online penetration was an indication of future political success.

"ElBaradei is very popular among upper class people and university students, but if you held elections today I don't think he'll get enough votes," he told The Media Line. "Being popular on the Internet does not mean someone is popular on the streets."

"In the Arab world popular support comes from loyalty to a leader or entrenchment in a community," Dajani continued. "ElBaradei is only popular among those who want change and among intelligentsia. People on the streets are afraid to vote against the authority, and this is the case throughout the Arab world. So it's nice to be popular on Facebook, but when it comes to vote it's not enough."

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