Social Media Influencers in the Middle East

Social networks in the Middle East are home to influencers too, but while their pages may look familiar, they can experience unique challenges.

Damian Radcliffe
Jul 29, 2019 · 3 min read
Image via Marie Claire. Original image credits: THE ABDEL AZIZ SISTERS; MAHMOUD OTHMAN; SAZDEL EL KAK; PASCAL LE SEGRETAIN/GETTY;

This is an extract from my new report “State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018,” which was co-written with Payton Bruni and published earlier this year. Read the Executive Summary and other sections on Market Context, Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat and Bitmoji, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram, Arab Youth, Fake News, Censorship and Freedom of Expression, Yemen’s Civil War and Social Media.

he role of social media influencers in the Middle East region has garnered considerable attention this year:

  • CNN’s list of the Top 10 beauty influencers of the Middle East, ranked Huda Kattan, number one. With 26.2 million Instagram followers, her net worth is estimated at $550 million[i] and her company — Huda Beauty — is valued at more than $1 billion.[ii]
  • With the headline “Meet the Kardashians of the Middle East” Marie Claire looked at how “Social-media mavens in the Middle East are bucking tradition and repressive laws to seek fame and fortune online.”
  • The feature included interviews with Zain Karazon (who has more than 1 million Instagram followers), WonderTan founder Alice Abdel Aziz, the Kuwaiti makeup artist Al Fahad, and the Lebanese TV and radio host Sazdel El Kak.

Unique challenges

However, social media influencers in the Middle East face their own set of challenges:

  • The UAE has set out to manage its booming community of social media influencers by regulating the sector, Think Marketing reported earlier in the year.[iv] .
  • Cairo based website Digital Boom noted that the law to regulate the influencer marketing industry came into effect on June 1st.

“UAE-based social media influencers who are making commercial gains from their online popularity are now requested to obtain a license before the end of June 2018, that costs 15,000 AED (just over $4,000) and is valid for a year.”[v]

Example of an influencer post. Image. Source: Tala Samman, Instagram [viii]

Criticism

  • CNN shared that Kuwaiti social media personality Sondos Alqattan — who at the time had 2.3 million Instagram followers — was dropped by several global cosmetics brands after she uploaded a video criticizing new labor laws.
  • The proposed new laws granted Filipino domestic workers a day off each week. In their coverage of the incident, The Guardian commented that “Roughly 660,000 people out of Kuwait’s population of 4 million are domestic migrant workers.”[ix]
  • However, by September it was “business as usual” for the Instagram Influencer, with Arabian Business commenting that her followers had grown to 2.4 million.[x]
Image: Screenshot from Sondos Alqattan’s Instagram account [xi]

Follow Me!

  • Finally, Algerian filmmaker Asri Bendacha, launched a documentary about social media influencers in the region. The Dubai-based filmmaker aired his film “Follow Me” on Netflix in November. “Bendacha is the first ever Dubai-based independent documentary filmmaker to be featured on Netflix,” the Dubai Media Office tweeted.[xii]
  • The documentary took 16 months from conception to final draft, Bendacha told the Khaleej Times.[xiii]
  • You can view his film on Netflix here.

Sources

[i] https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/23/health/gallery/middle-east-beauty-influencers/index.html

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/profile/huda-kattan/?list=self-made-women#4aba0d833cec

[iii] https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a20158364/middle-eastern-social-media-influencers/

[iv] https://thinkmarketingmagazine.com/uae-to-regulate-social-media-influencers/

[v] https://adigitalboom.com/uae-new-influencer-marketing-policy-comes-into-effect/

[vi] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-45706227

[vii] https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/19/18146869/influencer-social-media-female-dangerous-middle-east-tara-fares-shima-qasim-instagram-youtube-murder

[viii] https://www.instagram.com/p/Bn31kHzhcHj/?utm_source=ig_embed

[ix] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/23/who-will-refund-me-kuwaiti-star-ignites-row-over-filipinos-days-off

[x] https://www.arabianbusiness.com/culture-society/403688-weeks-after-controversy-its-business-as-usual-for-kuwaiti-influencer-sondos-al-qattan

[xi] https://www.instagram.com/p/BmgiKlPnpOZ/

[xii] https://twitter.com/dxbmediaoffice/status/1063420240745385984

[xiii] https://www.khaleejtimes.com/nation/dubai/netflix-premiere-for-residents-/documentary-on-influencers

[xiv] https://www.netflix.com/title/81037898

Damian Radcliffe

Research, analysis, teaching materials and journalistic…

Damian Radcliffe

Written by

Chambers Professor in Journalism @uoregon | Fellow @TowCenter @CardiffJomec @theRSAorg | Write @wnip @ZDNet | Host Demystifying Media podcast https://itunes.app

Damian Radcliffe

Research, analysis, teaching materials and journalistic output by the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon

Damian Radcliffe

Written by

Chambers Professor in Journalism @uoregon | Fellow @TowCenter @CardiffJomec @theRSAorg | Write @wnip @ZDNet | Host Demystifying Media podcast https://itunes.app

Damian Radcliffe

Research, analysis, teaching materials and journalistic output by the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store