Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now tweeting in Arabic on a new Twitter account opened in mid-December. The development caught the attention of the Saudi Internet news service, Al Arabiya, which reported this week that Netanyahu's Twitter account has drawn new followers from Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, currently numbering 717 followers.
"The aim of this account is to deepen the dialogue with you," said one of the first tweets by the Israeli Prime Minister in Arabic on December 14, which was later followed by "Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem," and seasonal wishes from the Holy Land for those celebrating Christmas.
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office originally joined Twitter, in addition to YouTube and Facebook, in August 2010 with the conviction that "social media channels today are vital to Israeli public relations, government transparency and keeping the public informed," according to a statement by the prime minister's bureau.
In general, Middle East leaders are increasingly utilizing Twitter to engage people, according to a study called Twiplomacy conducted by the global public relations consultancy Burson-Marsteller in August of this year (twiplomacy.com). According to the Twiplomacy study, "Twitter has become a new way to communicate with world leaders and a way for these leaders to communicate with each other."
The study found that nearly two-thirds of world leaders have accounts on Twitter, with 45 percent of those accounts personally managed by world leaders themselves. The Burson-Marsteller study assessed 264 Twitter accounts belonging to leaders from 125 countries, which combined have nearly 52 million followers.
In the Middle East and North Africa, 21 regional leaders have Twitter accounts.
One of the most active accounts in the Middle East belongs to Jordan's Queen Rania, who has 2.2 million followers, making her the fourth most followed world leader. The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has one million followers including 13 other world leaders, which makes the Dubai ruler the most followed by world leaders. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has 54,782 followers and is considered the most conversational, personally engaging in Twitter chats with his followers regularly. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Twitter account has a little more than 1,551 followers while Netanyahu's English account has over 129,000 followers.
The Arab region has close to 2.1 million active Twitter users, with the top five as follows: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Lebanon, according to Dubai School of Government's Arab Social Media Report.
U.S. President Barack Obama, the first world leader to sign up to Twitter in March 2007, is the most followed world leader with over 17 million followers and has the fifth most popular account, sandwiched between pop-stars Rihanna and Britney Spears. The second most followed leader is Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez with over 3 million followers.
Created in 2006, Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that allows people to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, called tweets.