Facebook me, habibi: Middle East marks 15 years of networking

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Egyptian protesters shout slogans against then-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Jan. 30, 2011. (AFP)
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Updated 31 May 2019

Facebook me, habibi: Middle East marks 15 years of networking

  • How the social networking platform went from personal to political during the Arab Spring
  • Facebook has 2.32 billion monthly active users, with 181 million in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and 16 million in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: People throughout the Middle East joined the world in musing about Facebook, and about all the ways it has changed their lives both personally and politically, as it turned 15 this week.

But the social networking site really took off in the region a few years after its launch on Feb. 4, 2004, by a group of American university students. 

In September 2006, Facebook launched worldwide to everyone above the age of 13 with a valid email address, and it was not until March 10, 2009, that it began running in Arabic.

On Jan. 25, 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling on President Hosni Mubarak to step down after almost 30 years in power. 

Facebook was credited with bringing all these people from across the country to one location at a specific time.

“Facebook was pivotal during the 11 days of protest, hence the internet had to be shut down by the authorities,” said A. Al-Saidy, who protested in Tahrir Square at the time.

“Many activists shared videos on Facebook, calling for people to come down and join. When the day came, no one thought a Facebook page could mobilize all those people.”

Al-Saidy was a follower of the page “We Are All Khaled Said,” an homage to a 29-year-old who was tortured to death by police, which is credited with being one of the catalysts that touched off the protests. 

It garnered more than 100,000 followers in just three days, becoming the most followed page on Facebook in the Arab world at the time. 

Egypt was not the only country where Facebook played a role in the Arab Spring. Pages were created for protests in Tunisia, Syria and other Arab countries, leading to the coining of the phrase “social media revolution.” It is for this reason that countries such as China, Iran and North Korea have completely blocked access to Facebook.

The site has also been used in the Middle East for less disruptive political purposes. During Lebanon’s municipal and parliamentary elections in 2016 and 2018, independent civil society groups used Facebook to promote and advertise their campaigns. 

Regardless of its purpose, its popularity is still undeniable. Facebook has 2.32 billion monthly active users, with 181 million in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and 16 million in Saudi Arabia.

“We celebrate and encourage these meaningful connections like bonding over a common interest and helping local businesses thrive. Our goal is to drive positive social and economic impact across the country (Saudi Arabia),” a Facebook spokesperson told Arab News.

The platform specifically catered to audiences in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world in 2018, the spokesperson said, adding: “We connected Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world during Hajj last year, where millions of people across the world were able to view a live Facebook broadcast of the Taraweeh prayers through the use of 360-degree video technology, in partnership with Arab News.”While other platforms, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, may have gained in popularity, Facebook now owns those too.

“The MENA region is one of Instagram’s fastest-growing and most vibrant communities, and we’re committed to providing the right tools for local users to connect and share experiences with one another,” the spokesperson said. 

That is similar to Facebook’s original purpose. “Our job at Facebook is to help people make the greatest positive impact, while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation. Giving people a voice is a principle our community has been committed to since we began.”


Google Doodle celebrates Egyptian author Notaila Rashed’s 86th birthday

Updated 22 min 44 sec ago

Google Doodle celebrates Egyptian author Notaila Rashed’s 86th birthday

  • She is affectionately known as “mama Lobna”
  • She founded a children’s book section at the publishing house Darel-Hilal in Cairo

DUBAI: Google celebrated the life of Egyptian author, Notaila Rashed, on Sunday, marking what would have been her 86th birthday. 
Affectionately known as “mama Lobna,” Notaila Ibrahim Rashed actively worked for the promotion of children’s and young adult’s literature in Egypt until her death in 2012.
Rashed contributed to children’s literature in the Arab world by writing books and short stories for magazines, as well as radio and television shows. She founded a children’s book section at the publishing house Darel-Hilal in Cairo and worked for children’s magazine ‘Samir’ from its first release in 1956 and until 2002. 
Egyptian National Council of Culture’s first children’s film was based on her story ‘The Doll,’ part of a bigger book called the ‘The Diary of Yasser Family.’
She started writing when she was still a student at the Cairo University, and her first works were broadcast on radio in 1953.
Rashed’s writings blend literary traditions of ancient and modern Egypt to help kids from across the world learn more about contemporary life in her home country.
Mama Lobna also translated a number of classics into Arabic, including ‘Black Beauty,’ ‘The Happy Prince’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’
During her lifetime, Rashed received numerous awards, including the State Award for Children’s Literature in 1978, the State Award for Children’s Journalism in 1995 and the Medal of the Council of the Ministry of Culture in 2002.