Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The World Wide Web has been a major factor of change in our region, thanks to its ability to connect people and communities with one another. The magnitude of these changes can now be seen in the manner that governments and public figures are communicating with the public utilizing the internet and social media in the Middle East and North Africa.
With the intense development in online technology today, there is now an urgent need for Arab governments to open lines of communication and dialogue with the people, particularly in light of the revolutions that have struck the regions and which were triggered and strengthened by social media. As a result of this, we have seen a new focus on new media and the internet being used to connect with the general public in a far more effective manner.
Following the dramatic rise of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, we are now witnessing a new focus on YouTube channels affiliated to Arab governments and ministries. This demonstrates the huge development that we have seen in communication methods between governments and the people in the Middle East, not to mention the potential of the internet, which can be exploited to achieve real and effective changes regarding the concept of governance in the region.
More than 240 million Arab citizens visit YouTube every day, with nearly 2 hours of content being uploaded every minute. This phenomenon has prompted Arab politicians and governments to take advantage of the new opportunities granted by social media to reach and interact with the general public in the Middle East via YouTube.
The new digital-savvy generation of Arab youth have been an important factor in YouTube’s increasing popularity in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly as 40 percent of the general population is made-up of the youth, whilst they make up 4 percent of global internet users.
This generation has a strong affinity to the internet and new technologies, and they pay a lot of attention to issues relating to social and economic development. However this generation of Arab youth – particularly following the series of Arab revolutions – also expects a greater level of interaction and transparency from their governments and government ministries.
In Egypt, President Mohamed Mursi launched his own YouTube channel last August, allowing him to communicate and interact with the Egyptian electorate. More than 2 million people have viewed videos uploaded on this channel, whilst it has approximately 40,000 subscribers. The president’s channel provides viewers with a variety of different content, including interviews of the president, as well as press conferences and his appearances at various public functions and ceremonies.
The channel also includes live broadcast of Council of Ministers sessions, as well as a monthly report regarding the president’s activities and achievements.
As for the Gulf region, UAE ruler Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum also launched an official YouTube channel. This channel has had almost 1 million views since it was launched in January 2012, not to mention more than 3,000 subscribers. This channel focuses on informing viewers across the UAE and indeed the world about the speeches, interviews and achievements of Sheikh al-Maktoum.
For its part, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken a different approach regarding its dealings with YouTube through the launch of the “Kingdom Dialogues” channel, which falls under the umbrella of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue. This channel invites Saudi citizens to record and upload their questions, which are then voted on in a public forum, with the most popular questions being discussed and answered by Saudi officials. “Kingdom Dialogues” is made up of a variety of content and includes discussions regarding the domestic fight against corruption as well as the increase in the prices of household goods in Saudi Arabia, not to mention other issues.
As for the Tunisian government, it has initiated a similar project, namely the “Tunisia Talks” channel which – along the lines of “Kingdom Dialogues” – aims to provide ordinary citizens with a platform to express their views and discuss important issues.