View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Facebook Users in the United Arab Emirates

Facebook, the social networking programme that connects people through the Internet, is the 7th most visited site by UAE Internet users, according to the Alexa Traffic Rankings (c.f. In Canada it is the most popular; in Bangladesh, the UK and Lebanon it is No. 2; USA and Australia, No 5; NZ and Bahrain No. 8; Saudi Arabia No. 9; Pakistan No. 10; India No. 14 and China No. 84).

Users can sign up to only one Facebook Network and with the large number of expatriates in the UAE it is likely that a big proportion of them will link with the network in their home country or city (many American cities have their own network but there currently exists only one network in the UAE).

At the last count the number of people on Facebook in the UAE was just over 105,000 and it has been growing fast.

World records are important to the UAE so it’s little wonder that UAE Facebook Networkers are aiming to become the largest group in the world (they need at least 3 million to take the honors) and they have received an official license from Guiness Records. The growth on the network is spurred on not only by a lust to be the biggest but the effort is dedicated to victims of cancer.

So who are the people on the UAE network? No official analysis has been undertaken but judging by a cursory glance of the faces, they appear to be students, young professionals, an international assortment with a mix of languages, as well as homegrown Emiratis.

The new ads that Facebook has added are mainly in English and Arabic or just in the Arabic script. One new, moving ad has an Arab guy in western dress knocking on the door and if your computer has the volume turned up you hear the constant knocking, at an anoying wood-pecker pitch. The logo at the top indicates that he is longing for a bottle of Pepsi.

Some of the 4,000+ Facebook applications have been blocked by the national communications monopoly. These appear to be programs that contain video content, photographic images and phone services (computer to mobile or landline) such as Trikster.

The UAE Network marketplace is in the main like any other international network with cars for sale, apartments wanted and jobs advertised. Some local flavor, however, is apparent with the listing of such things as a second hand (second mouth!) shisha pipe for sale and ‘two young camels for sale’. When I made enquiries about the price of this duo, which happens to be $500,000 for the pair delivered to my door, I discovered that the vendor was in Africa but he had joined the UAE network to sell his livestock. Deduct $20,000 for the transportation, customs clearance and license to get the real price of these thoroughbreds.

What are UAE Facebook users talking about on the Discussion Boards? Many of the postings are mindless, full of deviations and addressing deep scientific questions like, “Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes?” At the moment the discussion topic that has the most postings is about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality. The reality of God or issues to do with creation/big bang theories have received a lot of attention, to the point of evoking one discussion topic entitled, “Who’s sick of all the posts about God?” Topics to do with sex, fidelity, virginity and polygamy are discussed frequently and with feeling.

In a country where unmarried people are not allowed to socialize with people of the opposite sex a digital network provides a welcome meeting ground, a chance to poke a friend or even send them a digital glass of beer (ginger beer of course in these parts).

Geoff Pound

Image: Facebook logo.

Check out some of the news from Fujairah, UAE on the site FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS, including Fujairah’s letter to Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, asking for a Fujairah Facebook network.