The revolution will be not be televised. But it will be tweeted, and liked, and shared on YouTube, Facebook and picked up by your major media outlets who may decide to air the coverage on television.
The “Arab Spring” is likely one of the most historic events to occur across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in decades. Activism spread like wildfire as media outlets capitalized on the immense passion for change grasping the region. But behind the revolutionary rhetoric, behind all the media coverage, behind all the politics, something else became apparent.
The Arab dot Spring is upon us. Here’s why.
A few years ago, many considered the region to be a lost demographic of internet users. Mere statistics lost in political hurricanes, cursed with social and economic obstacles, outdated infrastructure and restrictive policies. A black hole of Internet data. Something has clearly changed.
For a region where access to the internet looks like an obstacle course of blocked sites, outdated infrastructure, where #ontornet became a cheeky hashtag for expressing frustration with slow internet speeds, the numbers are staggering. According to the Dubai School of Government's Arab Social Media Report, the total number of Facebook users in the Arab world skyrocketed 30 percent from January to April of 2011. In a formal study of the effects of social media during the Arab Spring, University of Washington-Seattle suggests that “millions of tweets” are what helped propel the Arab Spring. When Mubarak left office, the study notes, the number of tweets regarding political change in Egypt jumped 1000% in a single day (from 2,300 to 230,000). Government efforts to crackdown on this demographic only incited more activism.
Who were these protestors and activists? Some may have initially considered them to be activists in other countries, retweeting and e-rebelling from their oppression-free countries. But that was quickly proven wrong. This social media push was coming from inside the countries activists were trying to change. They did not resemble the (previous) stereotype of an Arab citizen. They were young, educated, technologically savvy activists with a cause, uploading videos from their cell phones, tweeting, blogging, and pulling together flash mobs to incite change. They went viral. Dictionaries are being updated now: “Social Media. n., (See Arab Spring)”
But, if you live here, this isn’t really news. All the Arab Spring did was get us to actually pay attention to something that was already taking place in the region. The Internet World Statistics report puts the number of MENA Internet users at roughly 79 million people. Seventy-nine million people didn’t wake up one day in March and decide to begin using Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.
No. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait together had the highest number of YouTube views per day per capita in the world this year. 120 million views per day come from the MENA region. That’s more than one Youtube video per Internet user in the MENA region, per day.
Our internet penetration is higher than the world average; MENA users spend nearly 20 hours per week online (check out insightsmena.com for more). Our 21 million Facebook users are almost doubling every year. This is a far cry from five years ago, when, in Damascus, I could’ve brewed myself a cup of tea and enjoyed it before my e-mail loaded. While this is still the case for my Lebanese friends, a supposed upgrade last week may be further changing the status quo.
We are becoming an internet force. No longer chained to citing the Yahoo! Maktoob deal as the only large exit in the region, we can now point to LivingSocial’s acquisition of group deal site GoNabit as evidence that MENA is a buyer’s market. Our Silicon Valley counterparts will testify that a good way to know you’re on to a something is when copycat sites crop up. Indeed, deal sites like Cobone, Groupon UAE, and YallaBanana have flooded our market. I’m sure five more will have surfaced by the time I’m done writing this article. The space is heating up.
Souq.com, MarkaVIP.com, Sukar.com, iKoo, Cashbury, Nahel.com,
Laimoon.com, Bayt.com, Tawilati.com, Lagta.com, Dubizzle.com… the
list keeps growing. It seems there is no better time to be an
entrepreneur in the region than right now. MENA users are
hungrier than we could have imagined. They want attention,
websites, deal sites, online shopping sites, media, videos, music,
mobile apps and countless social tools. They are millions of
YouTubing, Tweeting, Facebooking users. After all, they just
toppled a couple of regimes, and there are about 79 million of them
waiting for your next idea.
What are you waiting for?