Top Ten Twitter users in Saudi Arabia

Twitter is big in Saudi Arabia. There, I said it. While no one can say for sure how many Saudi Twitter users exist, I think it is safe to say that the number is in the thousands. Regardless of the numbers, there have always been questions about the influence of social media on public discourse in the Middle East, with many dismissing these new tools as factors for stimulating change. However, I think that the past few months have showed some clear examples for what is possible using social media, as we have seen in stories like those of Samar Badwai and Abdulwahab al-Essa. With Twitter announcing their plan to launch an Arabic version next year, we can only expect that the influence of Twitter will grow and increase.

Now when you first register to Twitter, the website shows lists of suggested users to follow. Unfortunately, these lists are not exactly helpful if you are interested in following people in a certain country. That’s why I wanted to create this list. The list, which ranks users according to the number of their followers, is based on my own personal unscientific research, and it includes only real humans, compared to those Twitter accounts populated by bots/feeds. If I missed anyone, feel free to correct me in the comments.

Without further ado, here is my list for the top 10 Twitter users in Saudi Arabia:

  1. @Azizshalan: This was a surprise to me. I have never heard of Aziz Shalan before working on this list, and his bio offers very little on who he is or what he does. What we know is that he is based in Jeddah, he has more than 12,000 followers, and he tweets in both Arabic and English about many different things.
  2. @TurkiAldakhil: Turki al-Dakhil hosts a popular weekly talk show on Al Arabiya channel, owns Al-Misbar research center in Dubai, and writes a daily column for Al Watan newspaper. Since joining the service last year he has been pretty active, using Twitter to express his thoughts and opinions. He recently asked his followers to suggest names for his show and what questions to ask them.
  3. @RayeD_X: Another surprise on the list. I don’t know much about this user except for what he provides in his bio: he is apparently an engineering student at Umm Al-Qura University, and he ranks #2 on the world in Killzone, which is a first-person shooter video game.
  4. @essamz: A relatively distant fourth, Essam Al-Zamil is an entrepreneur and blogger from the Eastern Province. He focuses on economics, especially issues related to real estate and unemployment in Saudi Arabia.
  5. @alfarhan: Fouad al-Farhan is the most well-known Saudi blogger. Even when he was not blogging, he was regularly tweeting, and has been for the past four years. Fouad tweets about politics, society, and entrepreneurship.
  6. @Nejer: Cartoonist Malik Nejer uses Twitter to share his latest work and comment on social and political issues. In his bio, he describes himself as someone who is interested in natural sciences and human rights. Recently, Malik announced his engagement to another user, @contradict1987, and they occasionally have cute exchanges on Twitter ;-)
  7. @ahmed: Yours truly.
  8. @alzaid: Saleh Alzaid is not merely a Twitter user. As the founder of TwitEmail and the owner of TwtBase, this programmer has made his mark on the Twitter community not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world.
  9. @ibrahemsu: Ibrahem AlSuhaibani blogs in Arabic about marketing, branding, and corporate identity. This kind of content is severely lacking and much needed in the Arab speaking internet. On Twitter, Ibrahim shows a more lighthearted side, but also shares links to creative works with brief commentary.
  10. @Bandar: Bandar Raffah is a graphic designer who makes beautiful things. You can take a glimpse of his recent work by looking at successful iOS apps such as 2Do, QamarDeen, and iPray. His Twitter stream is a mixture of distinctive ranting with occasional links.
  11. Bonus! @azizkhoja: With 123 tweets only, the Saudi minister of information and culture Abdulaziz Khoja is not the most prolific Twitter user. However, his presence as a senior government official on this social network is definitely interesting. The minister links to his recent articles and sometimes replies to fellow tweeps questions.

Top Ten Saudis I Want to Meet

Five days before Fouad al-Farhan was detained, he posted a list of ten least favourite Saudis that he does not wish to meet. At the end of that post, he wrote: “Coming soon: top ten Saudis that I love and wish to meet.” As a tribute to Fouad, I decided to give it a shot.

I thought it would be a piece of cake; and oh boy I was wrong! I was unpleasantly surprised that I could easily come up with 3, 4 or 5 lists like Fouad’s, but I could not find 10 Saudis that I really would like to meet. It did not help that I’ve already met some people who would otherwise have been on my list.

After borrowing the brains of few friends and several attempts to write and rewrite this list, I present you with my list of the ten Saudi personalities that I would like to meet in person:

1. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
Although I’m pretty sure that his majesty’s schedule for the coming four years is totally full, I would really like if I get a chance to meet him, and if I ever get this chance, it would be one of the rare occasions where I’m looking forward to meet someone in order to talk to him more than listening.

2. Abdul-Rahman Al Lahim
A fellow blogger once called the human rights lawyer an “angel,” and I think that her description is not far from truth. Despite all the hardships that he has had to go through, including jail and travel ban not to mention being severely attacked by some ignorant idiots, he stood firm to defend the defenseless.

3. Khalid Al Dakhil
I’ve been a fan for the sociopolitics professor for a long time. When he was having a chat with Washington Post readers I was lucky to get to ask him a question, and I even have had a chance to talk with him on the phone last year, but I’m still waiting for the right time to have the pleasure of meeting him in person.

4. Sheikh Hasan Al Saffar
After spending some time as a dissent in exile in the 80’s, he returned home in the early 90’s and emerged as one of the most prominent Shia leaders in the country. Today, he represents one of the few voices here calling publicly for tolerance, moderation and a greater role for civil society.

5. Ghazi Al Gosaibi
You can say whatever you want about his performance in his different ministerial positions, but my admiration of Al Gosaibi has more to do with his writings as a novelist and a poet than his work for the government.

6. Maram Meccawy
Our newspapers are filled with aging editors and writers, the kind of people Fouad used to call “dinosaurs.” This is not the case with this young columnist and, I’m glad to say, fellow blogger who represents a breath of fresh air and gives the rest of us hope that the future of this nation may not be completely dark after all.

7. Buthaina Al Nassr
After being the first Saudi female news anchor to welcome viewers on Al Ekhbariya, she left the deteriorating channel and now works with Al Hurra. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and because she know that I’m constantly consuming junk food in Riyadh she was nice enough to invite me to try her cooking; something I’m looking forward to as she is also known for being a good cook :-)

8. Samia Al Amoudi
A brave, courageous woman who fought breast cancer and then made it her mission to raise awareness about this disease that kills hundreds of women in a society where talking about such issue is usually surrounded with shame.

9. Ebtihal Mubarak
The Arab News reporter has been described by CNN as “fearless” and her work on many stories during the past few years is simply groundbreaking. Ebtihal comes from a conservative background but that did not stop her from becoming one of the leading female journalists in Saudi Arabia.

10. Abdullah Al Hamed, Matruk Al Faleh and Ali Al Dumaini
The three reformists who were jailed for demanding a constitutional monarchy and later pardoned by King Abdullah soon after he ascended the throne are some of the most courageous political activists in the country. Al Hamed, and his brother Eisa, are now jailed in the aftermath of the women’s demonstrations in Qassim last summer, while Al Faleh and Al Domaini continue their efforts to promote human rights in the country.

Honorable Mentions: Turky Al Hamad, Badria Al Bisher, Wajiha Al Huwaider, Dima Al Azem, Othman Al Omair, Sami Al Jaber and Hatoon Al Fassi.

How about you people? Who’s on your list?