Is social media making the UAE more sociable? In a word: Yes. Following in the foot steps of www.ask-ali.com, on which Abu Dhabi-based Ali Alsaloom answers questions about UAE culture and tradition, Twitter account Emiratweet is going a step further. Bridging that infamous gap between Emiratis and the expats who make up around 80 per cent of the nation’s population, Emiratweet not only answers questions, but organises offline tweet-ups for Emiratis and expats to meet.
If there is a medium through which to bridge the gap, Twitter just might be perfect: since being unblocked in August 2008, Twitter has become enormously popular in the UAE. A study by Spot On PR in July last year found that the Emirates accounted for 60 per cent of the GCC’s Twitter users, and by September there were an estimated 6,000 Twitter accounts in the UAE: no small feat, considering there were only between 1,000 and 2,000 users across the entire MENA region in January 2009. It’s a unique opportunity to put people in touch, and Emiratweet now has more than 1,700 followers. We talked to Dubai-based Emiratweet founder Heba al Samt to find out more.
Why start Emiratweet?
Yes, we’re all guilty of generalising sometimes, but Emiratis are probably generalised more than most. Al Samt tells us: ‘Like all over the world, there’s the good and the bad [among us]. I don’t like that we’re looked at as rich people with a golden spoon in our mouths, because a lot of Emiratis have had to work really hard to reach the position they’re in. Yes, there are people who just rely on their parents and their family business, but we want to show the other side.’ There are 19 people running the Emiratweet account: ‘We’ve had a lot of people volunteer to take part, who believe in something and want to reach out.’
What’s posted on Emiratweet?
It’s a platform hosted by Emiratis, who use it to ‘teach and share’. There are links to news items and videos, and discussions around recent events, such as proposals for new maternity laws and initiatives by Emiratis. Followers can also ask questions about Emirati culture.
What are the tweet-up events like?
Varied. Emiratweet works to host regular events, which have included panel discussions about the financial crisis, a Women’s Day event and a comedy show. Speakers are Emiratis, but anyone is welcome to attend, and they are doing so: the first Emiratweet event this January pulled in 200 people. Emiratweet is also planning a Ramadan event, and has asked for its followers’ input on what that event should be, so your suggestions will always be welcome.
Has there been any negative feedback to Emiratweet?
‘The first negative response I had was, “Why would an Emirati woman do this? Why doesn’t an Emirati man do it?”,’ says al Samt. ‘There are good and bad responses. We try to find out why the negative comments are being made and try to fix it. I am happy to meet whoever has any negative comments and discuss it. If my people and my country saw it as a bad idea, then by all means I’d stop it, but I have 2,000 people who are happy and following me.’
Why should we follow?
‘Expats often think you can’t talk to an Emirati, but this is wrong – we’re not hard to approach,’ explains Al Samt. ‘[On Emiratweet] we’re everyone’s friends. So if people do want to learn about Emiratis, if they want to engage and communicate and get to know us, then Emiratweet is the place for them. And we reply to everyone. No message – even if it’s negative – goes unanswered.’
Like the sound of Emiratweet? Search it on Twitter, Facebook or visit the website, www.emiratweet.com.