Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi) when he joined my Public Diplomacy class at Emerson College. He was in Boston for a few days attending events and Dr. Payne (@JGPAYNE) somehow charmed Sultan and convinced him to join us in class that evening.
At the time, Sultan did not mention that he had been named one of TIME Magazine’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds in March 2011. Since the summer, he has also been named one of The Most Influential Non-Celebrity Users of Twitter by UK’s The Independent. But you wouldn’t know any of these things when you meet Sultan. He’s incredibly humble and doesn’t seem to believe that he has “tweeted up a revolution,” as the UK’s Guardian says, nor that he is the Twitter King of the Arab Spring, per Chatham House. It wasn’t until I began my research for this blog post that I began to understand fully the influence Sultan has had.
Sultan currently has 96,840 followers. He is a thirty-three year old fellow at the Dubai School of Government and a freelance columnist, raised in the United Arab Emirates and educated in Paris, per TIME Magazine. Sultan made such an impact because he took the time to translate everything that was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria into English. He translated all of the information like full speeches by Muammar Gaddafi, not just providing two sentence summaries as many Western newswires were doing (Chatham House). That and he removed opinion from his tweets, saving it for his longer articles (Guardian).
At one point he accounts that he was tweeting a new update every 45 seconds (TIME Magazine). For three weeks he wasn’t eating or sleeping (Guardian). Sultan took time off work and was tweeting over 20 hours a day (Chatham House). His following exploded once world journalists began to retweet him (Guardian). When asked what the impact of social media has had on the revolutions he said, “I think that the revolutions would have happened anyway, but I think social media was a tool, a mobiliser, a conduit, that people found each other through” (Guardian).
When asked about his current interests in the area, he sites Egypt and Saudi Arabia, saying “If Saudi [Arabia] changes, then everything changes. If Saudi empowers women, the rest of the region empowers women. It’s a multiplier effect. Saudi is on the cusp of major change – and it has nothing to do with people marching in the streets” (Guardian).
Some of you mentioned earlier that you did not understand the impact social media was having in the Arab Spring or that you thought it was over-credited. After reading this post and seeing all of the articles around one man, have your thoughts changed?