By Hyacinth Mascarenhas
When Twitter launched in July 2006, many claimed it would never work.
Today, Twitter has evolved into a unique social networking and information platform boasting 218 million active users from around the world sending more than 500 million tweets a day.
“In the six years since its inception, the site that lets us socialize in teaspoons has delighted, inspired, disgusted and distracted (to distraction) its 140 million users, often in the space of half an hour; and changed the world forever,” Lauren Lavern for The Guardian.
Having evolved into much more than a social networking site, Twitter, which means “a short burst of inconsequential information,” allows users to share information, catch up on the latest news, follow popular trends and dialogue in addition to interacting with friends, family and colleagues.
Part of the fun of Twitter, of course, is discovering new, interesting people to follow on Twitter – celebrities, world leaders, thought leaders, activists, businesses, spoofs and more – to build your own network based on the things that you care about.
For those interested in the Middle East, there is a wide array of Twitter personalities to follow depending on your interest in politics, human rights, innovation, humor, entertainment, lifestyle, etc.
We have compiled our own list of eclectic Twitter personalities that are either from the Middle East or cover the region in a unique way that we believe deserves a follow. While this list is by no mean exhaustive (feel free to suggest some more accounts in the comments), these personalities were picked because they are informative, have held meaningful conversation and have the follower numbers to show for it.
Here’s our list of brilliant people tapping away messages in 140 characters or less:
1. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Our region is a cradle of great civilisations. Given the right tools Arabs, once again, can deliver new scientific contributions to humanity
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) July 16, 2014
As an effective tool for digital diplomacy, Twitter has also become quite popular among world leaders to engage with constituents, promote election campaigns, offer unique insight into their lives or broadcast their thoughts on current affairs, policies and events.
Eager to express his concerns and opinions on regional and international issues and initiatives, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai is one of the most popular world leaders on Twitter, ranking #7 in the Twitter world leader rankings in 2013, according to the Digital Policy Council.
His passion and love for the UAE and its people paired with his modest approach have led to people calling his tweets, “an image of equality, encouragement and comfortable interaction with citizens”.
2. Muna Abu Sulayman
— Muna AbuSulayman (@MunaAbuSulayman) July 13, 2014
As an award-winning Arab media personality and co-host of Kalam Nawaem, an Arabic TV show that focuses on Arab families, social issues and empowerment, Muna AbuSulayman is a must-follow personality on Twitter.
Often dubbed the Saudi version of Oprah, she has consistently been named as one of the most influential Arabs as well as one of the most influential Muslims in various publications since 2009 for her innovative work in education, sustainable development, cross-cultural relations and female empowerment.
She is also the first Saudi woman to be appointed by the United Nations as a goodwill ambassador, the former founding Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, the philanthropic arm of HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company, and a board member of the Muslim Women’s Fund which aims to strengthen Muslim women and benefit families and communities regionally.
3. Sultan Al Qassemi
— سلطان سعود القاسمي (@SultanAlQassemi) June 28, 2014
Often known as the powerhouse ‘tweeter’ during the Arab Spring, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi started off with about 7,000 followers on Twitter. Today, he has a global audience of 228,000. This Paris-educated, UAE-based columnist tweeted live translations of information and conversations coming from Egypt’s Tahrir Square and Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, tweeting a new update every 45 seconds at one point during the peak of the Arab Spring.
Although his pace has slowed down since then, this exuberant personality still packs a punch in valuable information and commentary on the region that ranges from current affairs and regional politics to art and his travels around the world.
4. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
— عبدالله بن زايد (@ABZayed) February 27, 2014
With more than 1 million followers on Twitter, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and son of the first Emir of the UAE, is very active on social media and actively engages with the public on issues related to foreign policy, the ministry, and popular events and initiatives in the UAE. In 2011, his tweet: “I hope we raise the UAE flag on top of every house” even led to an annual event where UAE flags are raised across the country and people post pictures of the flag using the hashtag #fogbaitna3alm.
5. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Emulating his tech-savvy father by engaging with the public on social media, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, is one of the most engaging and most followed world leaders on Twitter. Earlier this year, Sheikh Hamdan launched the #MyDubai initiative urging visitors and residents to share their experiences of Dubai through photos, videos, and stories via social media to create the world’s first autobiography. As a frequent Instagram user, expect some footage of the young leader offering a glimpse into his private life and promoting Dubai’s beauty, unique campaigns and new initiatives through both social media platforms.
6. Dr. Bassem Youssef
Often hailed as the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, Dr. Bassem Yousef, a former heart surgeon, is a superstar satirist and presenter on television in Egypt. This outspoken personality’s popular Egyptian television show “Al Bernameg” or The Programme draws millions of viewers every Friday night as he takes jabs at Egyptian politics, pokes fun at politicians and ultra-orthodox Islamists in the region.
Following an anti-semitism and plagiarism row, Dr. Youssef has found himself hot water again. Nevertheless, his flamboyant outspokenness in Egypt is “still testing the limits of its hard-earned freedom, where those who speak out against the powerful still have much to fear…[and] manages to produce an incredible show: a hilarious blend of mimicry, confusion, outrage and bemusement, highlighting the absurdities and hypocrisies of his country’s rebirth, all wielded with the precision of a scalpel,” as Jon Stewart so aptly put it.
7. Habib Haddad
Why are things supposed to be the way they are just because that’s how they have been… Says who? Rethink and disrupt.
— Habib Haddad (@habibh) March 21, 2014
As the current CEO of Wamda, an enabling platform for entrepreneurs in the MENA region, one can expect Habib Haddad’s 140-character snippets to be nothing short of fascinating, innovative and inspiring.
This Lebanese entrepreneur, venture investor and Arab influencer is also the founder and CEO of Yamli.com, a search engine that allows users to type in Arabic without using an Arabic keyboard, co-creator of Alive in Egypt, a website used to transcribe and translate voicemail messages from Egypt, and YallaStartup, an NGO that fosters fledgling entrepreneurship in the MENA region. He was also recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009 and named a top innovator under 35 by the MIT technology review in 2011.
8. Queen Rania Al Abdullah
— Rania Al Abdullah (@QueenRania) June 25, 2014
Often dubbed the “Princess Diana of the Middle East,” Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan is another great Middle Eastern Twitter personality to follow. Known for her philanthropic work, impeccable fashion sense and uplifting tweets, Queen Rania is a role model for women both regionally and around the world.
As an Eminent Advocate for UNICEF, honorary chairperson for UNGEI and a champion for women’s rights, her tweets range from fierce activism and positive cross-cultural dialogue to unique glimpses into her personal life through old and new Instagram photos of the Royal family.
9. Badr Jafar
— Badr Jafar (@BadrJafar) April 10, 2014
As the managing director of the Crescent Group and CEO of Crescent Enterprises, Emirati Badr Jafar is one of the world’s top energy executives. His extracurricular activities, however, show that he is much more than that. This high-impact entrepreneur has made waves regionally and globally by spearheading the Pearl Initiative, a sector-led, not-for-profit organization set up to improve transparency, accountability and business practices in the Arab world.
The Cambridge graduate is also a pioneer in the arts world and co-founded the Global Gumbo Group – a music production company to bridge the cross-cultural divide in music and theater between the East and the West – with renowned producer Quincy Jones. He also launched the non-profit Middle East Theatre Academy with actor Kevin Spacey to promote the art and culture of the theater in the MENA region and provide an arena for youth to express and advance their talents in directing, writing, producing and acting.
10. Shadi Hamid
The problem with the status quo is that it usually *is* sustainable, at least for a while. — Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) July 10, 2014
Trying to keep track of what the Twitterverse has to say about current events and policies in the Middle East? Follow Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and former director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
Focusing on democratic reform and Islamist political parties in the region, Hamid’s Twitter account is brilliant resource for people interested in international affairs, foreign policy and the complex, political intricacies of the MENA region.
11. Raya Abu Gulal
Interested in women’s rights, feminism and stories of inspiring activism in the MENA region? Follow Raya Abu Gulal, co-founder of the Women Lawyers Group in the Middle East that works to build supportive networks for them and conduct studies on regional developments which impact female lawyers. Abu Gulal runs a legal consultancy that specializes in the Middle East and covers corporate and commercial work for local and international clients.
12. Fadi Ghandour
If you are at all interested in regional finance, logistics and innovative trends in the region, Fadi Ghandour needs to be included in your Twitter repertoire. As the founder and former CEO of Aramex, a multimillion logistics company, and Chairman of Wamda, Ghandour’s account is a fascinating mix of entrepreneurial, technology and financial trends in the region as well as international news and current events.
13. Rania Matar
Born and raised in Lebanon, documentary photographer Rania Matar originally trained as an architect at the American University of Beirut and Cornell University before discovering her passion for photography at the New England School of Photography and the Maine Photographic workshops. Focusing on women and children in the Middle East, Matar’s works include L’Enfant-Femme (the Child-Women), A Girl and Her Room and Family moments focus on various women’s issues including identity, religion and the womanhood.
If you’re looking for insightful, stunning photos of women across generations and cultures, Matar is definitely worth a follow.
14. Natasha Tynes
Jordanian-American journalist and media professional Natasha Tynes is a must-follow expert on the Middle East and developing news in the region. Based in Washington D.C., Tynes was convicted to five years in prison in Egypt for “working illegally” and teaching Egyptian journalists and citizen journalists how to use social media as part of her job as program director for the International Center for Journalists last year.
That hasn’t stopped her from continuing her work in journalism and media development, making her account a great source of the latest news and developments related to the Middle East.
15. Noura Al Kaabi
Interested in media, digital businesses and the creative industry in the Middle East? H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, Chief Executive Officer of the Media Zone Authority (twofour54) is the person to follow on Twitter. Focusing on the development and sustainability of Arab digital media and creative industries in the UAE and MENA region, Noura oversees multiple major media events in the region including the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission.
16. Rania Anderson
As founder of The Way Women Work, an online career guidance platform for women in growth economies, Meridian LLC, and co-founder of the Women’s Capital Connection, Rania Anderson is a unique entrepreneur to follow on Twitter and a fierce supporter of women’s rights and empowerment.
As a leading authority on business women in developing markets, her expertise in the business sector and inspiring stories of female leaders in multiple fields make her a must-add to anyone’s network.
17. Ayman Mohyeldin
4 Palestinian kids killed in a single Israeli airstrike. Minutes before they were killed by our hotel, I was kicking a ball with them #gaza
— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) July 16, 2014
How could we finish off this list without including Al Jazeera’s breakout star Ayman Mohyeldin?
The Egyptian foreign correspondent’s powerful reporting earned rave reviews covering the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Shortly after the announcement that Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his Egyptian presidency came out, Mohyeldin tweeted, ““Freeeeeeeedddooooommm!!!!!!”
Currently a foreign correspondent for NBC News, Mohyeldin’s reporting on Twitter make him a must-follow personality for anyone interested in the Middle East, hard-hitting journalism and the latest news in the region.