Carlos Estrada-Ruiz, Digital Analyst at regional digital marketing agency Netizency, shares with Communicate a social recap analyzing the discussions in the GCC’s public sphere and highlighting the most relevant trends last month.
Every month, Netizency identifies a group of Arabic and English keywords from different industries in the region, classifies them according to the volume of mentions, and analyzes the topics of conversation across all social and online media.
Between December 1-30, 2021, the top three most discussed topics were entertainment, health, and education in that order, followed by electronics, finance, then automotive.
Similar to November, the top three topics of conversation reappear as the most important in the Gulf region last month. Entertainment conversations ranked the top for the second month in a row in December, mostly due to international sports events, national celebrations, and iconic holidays taking place in the region and in the world.
Health conversations come in second, climbing up a spot compared to November, as the new Omicron variant officially appears in Gulf countries. Finally, Educational topics come in third, as discussions around the winter break and a temporary return to online-only education became more relevant.
With the holidays all around us, entertainment conversations mostly revolved around iconic national and international days. Beginning with the UAE’s Golden Jubilee on the 2nd, which had already been an important theme of discussion by the end of last month, to Bahrain’s National Day on the 16th, to Qatar’s National Day as well as World Arabic Language Day, both on the 18th, Gulf nationals and ex-pats alike celebrated together with the achievements of their countries and their local language.
The relaxation of social distancing restrictions around the world, however, caused record levels of excitement for what seemed to be the first winter holiday season to be celebrated properly since the pandemic started. Christmas’s and New Year’s discussions, thus, were filled with joy and high expectations. From long-awaited family reunions to outdoor festivals and the enthusiasm for what was the first trips outside their cities for many, the last month of the year was filled with positivity and good spirits.
Yet seasonal celebrations were not the only source of conversation, as December was also witness to several international events. The FIFA Arab Cup, the first-ever football tournament under official FIFA jurisdiction pitting national teams from all over the Arab World, all but monopolized the regional sporting conversation. Expat communities in Doha showed their support from the stadiums while local fans cheered for their teams from their home countries.
In preparation for the World Cup a little less than a year away, the host nation’s national team gave another impressive display of talent reaching all the way to the semifinals after defeating Egypt, one of the favorites. But the team that won everyone’s hearts was that of Palestine. While not having been able to win any of their matches, it garnered the most support and enthusiasm from all the fans, both online and on the ground, in a sentimental display of pan-Arab unity.
Aligning with Qatar’s National Day, the tournament reached its thrilling conclusion with the clash between Algeria and Tunisia, two of the most important and star-studded teams in the tournament. Fans commented on the hard-fought match live as it remained goalless during regular time, even after the best attempts of the most in-form players of the championship. Fans reeled as the game went into an additional half-hour of extra playing time, when, just seconds before reaching the 100th minute of play Algeria scored a shocking goal only to double the lead by the very end, culminating their successful run with the victor’s trophy.
In the realm of motorsports, the 2021 Formula One World Championship also reached its conclusion last month in a nail-biting, three-part finale with a strong Gulf flavor. After winning back a sizeable amount of points in both the Qatar GP in Doha and the Saudi Arabian GP in Jeddah, Lewis Hamilton seemed poised to win his 8th World Driver Championship. However, an exciting Abu Dhabi GP, flashing new track modifications, saw Dutch driver Max Verstappen dethroning British legend Lewis Hamilton in the last lap.
ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ ᴄʜᴀᴍᴘɪᴏɴ!!!!— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 12, 2021
This is just unbelievable. I started racing with my dad many years ago. We dreamed of becoming a World Champion and now we are.
Having gained the first position in the first half of the race, racing enthusiasts online confidently cheered for Hamilton’s expected win… barring unexpected circumstances, like a safety car in the last few laps of the race that would take away all the British driver’s advantage—which was exactly what happened in a Netflix-worthy dramatic fashion. Following controversial decisions by the FIA, the governing body of international motorsport, Verstappen was allowed to challenge Hamilton wheel-to-wheel for the last lap. With the fresher tires and invigorating momentum, the Dutchman snatched the first position as Yas Marina witnessed his crowning for the first time as World Champion.
Important events did not only happen in the real world, but also in fiction. One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Spider-Man: No Way Home broke plenty of both pre and post-pandemic box office records. The real winners, though, were the fans: from the most casual superhero movie-watcher to the biggest Marvel expert, online reactions were massively positive, to the extent that some Gulf users called it the best Spider-Man movie and even the best Marvel movie of all time.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD. In what is possibly the most imaginative and original fan service in Hollywood, reminiscent of iconic comic book storylines, Marvel and Sony teamed up to bring back the main actors from the two previous Spider-Man movie incarnations. Most of the GCC online community marveled at the appearance of Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield, the first and second Spider-Mans, respectively, tapping on childhood nostalgia from the early 2000s when the very first movie was released.
Officially introducing the concept of the ‘multiverse’, amazed fans could only imagine Marvel’s plans for the future of the franchise as well as the potential introduction of important characters, like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, into the current universe even if they were taken to the big screen prior to Disney’s Marvel acquisition.
The arrival of the Omicron variant to the Gulf materialized in December and thus it became the center of the health conversation. Gulf users followed attentively all governmental recommendations and shared all news related to the variant as new research emerged progressively, in order to gain better awareness of the situation and to be able to respond to it properly.
The most important theme surrounding the spread of the Omicron variant was its reportedly faster propagation speed. Numerous reports showed that Omicron is even more virulent than the Delta variant, leading users to ring the alarm and temper the expectations for their social activities and to call out those who forget the continuous risks of the pandemic and had stopped wearing facemasks and socially distancing.
As the month progressed and the Omicron cases rose, Gulf users found each other testing positive en masse. After initially worrying that the national health systems would not be able to manage a sudden influx of patients, the online community saw that most Omicron cases were milder than previous variants, playing along with memes and even poking fun at the sheer number of cases within their social circles that did not evolve to graver symptoms—yet never underestimating the public health risks of the pandemic.
Indeed, it is telling that despite the fact that new variant is taking the world by storm, GCC users highlight how the Gulf community is maintaining its composure and showing resilience in handling potential increases in social distancing policies and restrictions and also continuous trust and encouragement for vaccinations. In line with their national policies, users are encouraging the community to take booster doses, which, even if not fully eliminating the risk of infection, do largely mitigate serious symptoms and will allow being better prepared to weather out a new wave.
The holiday season offered a much-needed, even if temporary, respite from stress-driven education conversations in December. Content from students and teachers going on vacation to parents enjoying a break from school schedules was the positive highlight of this month’s discussions.
The surprise of the year-end, though, was the unexpected decision by the UAE government to change the working week. Starting on Monday and ending on Friday, instead of the more regionally traditional Sunday to Thursday schedule, the new working week became the focus of conversation across the region, including those in relation to education, since the change means schools will adhere to the new schedule. Many UAE users wondered how the new week will be felt, but remained optimistic to see positive outcomes from it.
#UAE announces today that it will transition to a four and a half day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend.— UAEGOV (@UAEmediaoffice) December 7, 2021
All Federal government departments will move to the new weekend from January 1, 2022. pic.twitter.com/tQoa22pai9
In a slow but dramatic twist during the second half of the month, and as the alert for a new Covid wave became more real, governments across the Gulf mandated a temporary return to online-only education for grade schools to limit the impact of the new variant. Naturally, the online student community was not thrilled with the idea, given the months of comparative normalcy experience in the classroom, but acknowledged the need to avoid all risks.
Once again, a large concentration of educational mentions came from Saudi Arabia, with a steady number of Google searches of Saudi educational platforms Madrasti and Noor. With the return of online-only education, robust national educational infrastructure becomes more important than ever and these platforms have been showing how relevant they are month and month again.