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Middle East leaders adopting ‘Twiplomacy’

HH Sheikh Mohammed Twitter Following

How does the presence of Middle Eastern leaders on Social Media affect the image of their governments, keeping in mind that they are not run as Democracies?

August 9, 2012 10:56 by

A recent study, displaying the presence of global and regional leaders on Twitter, has highlighted the silver lining of heavy social media usage; especially in the Middle East.

‘Twiplomacy’, by Burson-Marsteller, along with revealing that two thirds of the world’s leaders have a presence on Twitter, has shown that respondents feel encouraged to share and interact in this growing adoption of Diplomacy within the confines of social media platforms.

But unfortunately, despite the uphill trend of its usage, many governments use Twitter as an automated news feed from their website or Facebook page and are less active than the recommended social dose; revealing it as less than politically or socially influential but rather as an empty echo, according to the first-ever global study that has analyzed 264 government accounts.

Middle Eastern leaders however, are becoming increasingly active on Twitter and taking advantage of its effective platform as an informative and engaging tool. According to the study, social media engagement is healthy but whether it will grow to be a game changer for social reform is a secondary and farfetched conversation.

For instance, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and VP of the United Arab Emirates, as the study shows, is one of the most followed leaders in the region and has recently crossed a million followers on Twitter. HH regularly tweets about his thoughts, aspirations, future plans, attended events and various achievements. It does help to create an image of equality, encouragement and comfortable interaction with the residents.

The study shows that some of the other regional leaders are also extremely active and heavily followed on Twitter, including Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah with 2,222,872 followers, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki with 69,217 followers, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati with 54,782 followers and the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman with 39,092 followers, and the list doesn’t end there.

Global leaders' following on Twitter

But how is this interactive presence affecting the governmental image, particularly in the Middle East region? While global leaders such as President Obama also have large groups of social media followers; the U.S. does in fact operate as a democracy while Middle Eastern countries, in retrospect, do not. In an interview with CNN in 2011, following media investigations into the UAE’s policy of treatment of political prisoners and offenders; HH Sheikh Mohammed famously said that “You cannot transport your {version of} Democracy to us. We have our own Democracy.”

According to Sunil John, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, it is clear that since the Arab Spring, many believe that their governments have become a lot more transparent and the importance of engagement and social media communication has been highlighted even further.

Any additional interaction between government figures and the general population will naturally increase trust, communication and transparency. It can also be linked back to the words of the Dubai Ruler; that in effect, this interactive environment between the people and their government is in its own form, a kind of Democracy, but not completely there yet.

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