As of the first week of January, we’ve added a new feature to the Buzz Report: the Weekly Top 5. The Weekly Top 5 report highlights the top five subjects which generated the largest volume of discussion across Arabic language social media platforms on a weekly basis. The report is derived from crawling the web and indexing hundreds of thousands of Arabic-language, user-generated results on a daily basis. A more thorough explanation of our methodology follows the report. The Weekly Top 5 represents data collected throughout the Sunday-Thursday work week in the Arab world.
The greatest buzz among Arab social media users this week was created by Saudi preacher and scholar Mohammed Al-Arefe’s Friday sermon at Cairo’s Amr ibn Al-As Mosque, in which he spoke to hundreds of worshippers about Egypt’s contributions to both the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Al-Arefe is a Salafist who enjoys considerable popularity in the Arab Gulf region, and is known throughout the Sunni Arab world. He is also active on social media, where, as of January 17, his Facebook page had 1,482,088 fans, while 148,897 people subscribe to his YouTube channel and 3.7 million people follow him on Twitter.
The majority of Islamist users commended Al-Arefe’s sermon and his love for Egypt, saying he should be honored and granted the Egyptian nationality for restoring Egyptians’ confidence. Meanwhile, government opponents saw the visit as a correction to the surge in ultra-conservative preachers that have distorted the image of Islam.
Religion soon turned into politics as Islamist and liberal users split over the visit. While some users criticized Al-Arefe for pleading with the Gulf to lend Egypt some money, Islamists accused secular powers of attacking Islamists regardless of their nationality. A number of users also sought Al-Arefe’s opinion on the humiliating treatment of Egyptians in Saudi Arabia as well as some of his controversial fatwas, or religious rulings.
User Together Against Muslim Brotherhood wrote: “Thank you Sheikh Arefe. We don’t want your or the Sauds’ money. Egypt doesn’t beg for money. If Egypt’s ruler and his clan beg, Egypt no longer becomes the leader.” On the other hand, tweeter Twitterman Diaries said: “Don’t heed the barks of the dogs and pigs of secularism against Sheikh Mohammad Al-Arefe. The sermon touched the hearts of Egyptians, especially the poor ones.”
In the sports category, Algeria’s friendly football match with South Africa came on top, as Algerian users followed the warm-up game ahead of the African Nations Cup, which kicks off on January 19 in South Africa. Though the match ended in a 0-0 draw, some users approved of the Algerian team’s performance, arguing that the coach did not reveal all of the team’s cards. Others added that such warm-up games give players confidence ahead of important away games. For example, user Martin Mario wrote: “A good performance; it’s a very important game; it helps the players psychologically in combatting fear because they don’t have much experience in international games.”
On the other hand, a proportion of users were unsatisfied with the Algerian players’ performance and concerned that their team would not be able to win the upcoming tournament. Some users suggested alternative team line-ups for better chances at victory. Ghano Safa was among those concerned with her team’s performance: “No, I don’t feel good about this performance. May God help us and spare us the shame they might bring to us.”
Meanwhile, Kuwait took the spotlight in the politics category as members of the Kuwaiti opposition organized the ‘Karamet Watan 6’ (Dignity of a Nation) rally to demand the dissolution of parliament, which was elected last month in spite of a nationwide boycott. Organizers announced on Twitter that the rally ended at 9:30 pm Kuwait time on Sunday. A proportion of social media users supported the protests, saying it was organized, peaceful, and reflected the nation’s will. Some added that nothing will stop Kuwaitis from claiming their rights and that they will continue to protest until they revoke the single-vote system. Other users, however, attacked the protests. They said love of one’s nation should be reflected in one’s protection of the country’s security and unity. These users accused protesters of harboring hidden agendas to dismantle the nation.
Reader Kuwaiti Overseas commented on Al Jazeera website saying: “A salute to the brave Sabah al-Nasser rebels who are the lions of manhood and dignity. I urge my nationals to carry on their protests until Kuwait returns to the Arab embrace. Don’t stop! Reject dialogue until the parliament of shame and of Iran is dissolved!” On Sabr news website, however, reader Fares complained: “Go hold your protests in the city’s outskirts, not downtown!”
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the 305th episode of the popular satirical podcast Ala al-Tayer (On the Run) stirred some controversy. Titled “Once Upon a Time,” the episode focused on issues that have shaken Saudi society over the past two weeks, including the labor minister’s new laws, medical insurance, and domestic violence exercised by foreign maids. A large proportion of social media users praised the episode, yet criticized its attack on clerics and Islamic rulings. For example, user Waleed Alghamdi wrote: “Bless you for the effort you put in making this show, but I have a comment. Please don’t criticize men of religion and Islamic rulings.”
Others, however, were unimpressed with the show and played down its ability to trigger change in Saudi society, arguing that satirical shows only make their producers famous. AbdulAziz tweeted: “What a pity that I wasted time to watch this silly show!” Likewise, reader Bandar wrote on Sabq news website: “They are looking for fame, as these shows do not change anything in society!”
Finally, Egypt was abuzz about a train derailment in Badrasheen, south of Cairo, that killed at least 19 people and wounded 107 others. While users paid their respect to the victims and their families, this too had political undertones, as the majority attacked Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and the newly-appointed transport minister. User Ramymasry commented on YouTube: “May God strike his anger and wrath on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who don’t care for the poor people’s blood!”
However, Islamist users and Morsi supporters accused remnants of the former regime and the opposition of staging the derailment of the train—which carried 1,328 conscripted soldiers—to obstruct the Islamist president’s policies and discredit him ahead of the parliamentary elections. These users found it suspicious that correspondents of an anti-Brotherhood channel were the first to report the crash: “Why was ONTV there at the time the accident occurred? Why is it the only channel that broadcasts the accident less than 15 mins after it happened,” wondered Nasr Alislam.
Meanwhile, others blamed the accident on the corrupt Egyptian National Railways, which they said lacked accountability. The popular Egyptian Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said posted: “The terrible negligence continues. Escape from responsibility continues, the search for a scapegoat continues, the popular indignation that will soon be forgotten continues…”
These results above are extracted from thousands of social media sources such as blogs, microblogs, forums, message boards, readers’ comment sections on news websites, etc, which are continually updated. A team of Arabic social media researchers and Arabic social media analysts use Arabic Natural Language Processing and data mining tools to analyze the data and to extract the list of top five subjects, based primarily on keyword repetition.
The Weekly Top 5 displays results of the common Sunday-Thursday work week in the Arab world, and is solely focused on Arabic language user-generated results, classified by volume of comments/discussion.
Data is captured primarily from 17 Arab countries in North Africa, the Levant, and the Arab Gulf region, and when relevant, the five other Arabic speaking countries belonging to the Arab League (Sudan, Somalia, Comoros, Djibouti and Mauritania).