During the week of June 23-27, social media talk of the outcome of MBC’s Arab Idol vocal competition was contagious. When the Palestinian contestant Mohamed Assaf was crowned as this year’s Arab Idol, the topic generated to 278,989 comments, pushing the Arts category to the head of discussion categories this week for the fourth week running. The Arts category generated a total of 432,849 posts, followed by Politics which counted 219,532 comments.
Assaf was declared the winner of Arab Idol on June 22, excelling over Egyptian competitor Ahmed Gamal and Syrian Farah Youssef. On social media, reactions poured into various platforms, where thousands of users congratulated Assaf and the Palestinians for his triumph. Turning an eye to Egyptian social media users, several expressed disappointment about their compatriot’s defeat, but hailed the Egyptian finalist for his talent and called upon him to continue developing his musical career. Nada, a Facebook user, said: “Don’t be sad dear son of Egypt. You are a Superstar to all Egyptians.”
On another note, some social media users expressed doubts about the integrity of the competition’s voting results, claiming that Gamal had actually won but that votes had been forged for the sake of Assaf, due to the intervention and support of some politicians. Confused Angel wrote on Facebook: “All this, suddenly? He won all the awards; he became a goodwill ambassador for Palestine by audience votes? It’s a fake show, full of cheats!” Some Islamist users across the Arab world mocked the enthusiasm of Palestinians, noting that Assaf had not freed Palestine from Israeli occupation by winning the competition and therefore was not deserving of the outpouring of social and political attention. Some ultra-conservative social media users asked God to lead Assaf to a “repentance” similar to that of Lebanese singer Fadl Shaker, who joined the Salafist movement to engage in jihad. It was also observed that some users denounced the excessive devotion to the popular singing competition amid the escalating political developments in some Arab countries. Dalal Artemi commented on Facebook: “A woman is being raped in Syria, another dies of hunger in Somalia, a third has become a widow in Palestine…yet Arabs are worried about Arab Idol results!”
Politics came second. On the evening of June 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed the nation in a lengthy public speech listing his achievements on the occasion of his first anniversary of ruling Egypt. On June 30, opposition groups plan massive anti-regime protests targeting his ouster. The top topic in Politics has drawn a total of 30,405 comments, in which social media users have commonly criticized the length of Morsi’s speech and the weak language he has used in a supposedly important speech. Khaled Ahmed wrote on Facebook: “Mubarak won half the people’s sympathy in 10 minutes, but in a 2.5 hour speech, Morsi made the people sympathize with Mubarak!!! Hahahaha God curses you, stupid.” Some users criticized the passivity of Morsi, who said he is aware of all the problems affecting ordinary Egyptian citizens. Many were irritated that the president publicly criticized his opponents and rivals, especially when he mentioned the former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik. It was also clear that several users had attacked Morsi for his criticism of Egyptian media professionals and business tycoons. Assem Nada wrote on Facebook: “I feel ashamed that you’re my president, Morsi. I never expected that you would grow more stupid every day. You have humiliated us before the whole world and made of Egypt a weak country, ridiculed by the world.”
News about the Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf also pushed the Society category to the third rank with a total of 35,874 posts. Assaf’s return to his native Gaza through the Rafah crossing border was the top topic in Society category. The talk generated 14,525 comments. As Assaf reached home on June 25, thousands of Palestinians gathered at the border to welcome the new star, holding banners and carrying his pictures. The Palestinian Youth and Culture Ministry announced a red carpet reception for Assaf, but hasn’t set the date for it yet. The majority of social media users expressed happiness and enthusiasm towards Assaf, wishing him the best of luck. Hamoud Siam said on Facebook: “The sweetest Assaf. God bless and protect him. This is the first time that our people have something to make us proud.” On the other hand, Islamist users disagreed with the exaggerated celebrations for the new Arab Idol. Some criticized his fans, who took to the streets en masse to welcome him home, describing them as “shallow” and “featherheads”. Another group of users said they were thrilled by Assaf’s success, not only because he deserves the title, but because he managed to bring Arabs together after long years of sorrow. Youssef Abou Hussein said on Facebook: “Assaf sings to unite the Arab nations. This is the son of Palestine who dedicated his victory to the Arab nations, thanks Mohamed Assaf, we needed this happiness after long years of grief.”
For the first time in months, Education category appeared as the fourth most-debated category on social media with 11,344 posts. In Morocco, the results of the General Secondary Stage exams of the year 2013 have been highly debated on social media platforms. Users generated 10,189 comments on the topic alone. Nearly 38% of the Moroccan high school students passed the baccalaureate exams. Some social media users wrote prayers on social media, hoping that all high school students would pass the tests. Scores of comments were critical of the education system in Morocco, with hundreds slamming the Ministry of Education for providing students with poor curricula and failing teaching methodologies. Daronnemok tweeted: “Congratulations to all the students who passed the baccalaureate tests. But don’t forget that it is a stupid evaluation to a stupid curriculum that doesn’t appraise your own skills.” Some other users lamented that many students overestimate their secondary school exam results. A Twitter user with the name of HWa9e3 said: “Some people are more worried about the high school tests than Judgment Day. They have poor faith in God.”
Media category was the least discussed category last week. Only 7,034 comments were generated in this category. The top topic in Media emerged from Saudi Arabia, when the tenth episode of the Saudi podcast Ashkal was broadcast on YouTube and attracted social media discussions, generating 5,468 comments, the lion’s share of volume in the media category. The episode explored a series of social and political events that recently influenced Saudi society; with highlights on tourism in the Kingdom and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal’s wealth. Some social media users were delighted by the program’s bravery in displaying Saudi social problems in the series. Ibn Hairan al-Ghatfany commented on the episode’s YouTube clip: “It’s a wonderful episode. And brave too!” Khaleel Sunba agreed with him on Facebook. He wrote: “I hope Al Waleed doesn’t watch this episode and see how you make fun of him. He could shut your channel down.” Other reactions on social media opposed the extent to which the episode criticizes Saudi society, arguing that the content of the clips might eventually incite Saudis to protest against the regime.
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).