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This article was published on August 25, 2011

Discover Digital Arabia: Middle East Internet usage in numbers

Discover Digital Arabia: Middle East Internet usage in numbers
Nancy Messieh
Story by

Nancy Messieh

Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Fol Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Follow her on Twitter, her site or Google+ or get in touch at [email protected]

N2V, one of the largest Internet holding companies in the Middle East, just launched a brand new site aiming to bring together all statistics relating to Internet, mobile and social media usage, and more, in the region. The new site, Discover Digital Arabia makes it easier than ever to understand how the Middle East is using modern technology, and how it differs from country to country.

Taking a look at the statistics available on Discover Digital Arabia, and its original sources, you can get a sense of the movers and shakers in various online sectors.


In the past 6 months, Iraq, Egypt and Algeria have seen the biggest spikes in Facebook usage, increasing anywhere between 48 and 61%. With the Internet blackout in Libya, Facebook usage dropped over 70% but may begin to see an increase as the service is being restored. Egypt tops the list of users numbered at over 8 million, but the country with the highest Facebook penetration is the UAE with 47.83% of the population on the social network, despite a slight drop in user numbers in the past month. The increase in Facebook use over the past 6 months doesn’t come as a surprise at all, since the social network has come into the spotlight for its role in organizing protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

Digital Marketing

Thanks to Discover Digital Arabic, we know that “Companies in MENA are spending 22% of their annual marketing budget on digital.” The site also features some interesting Twitter statistics that go beyond user numbers. For example:

50% of MENA Twitter users have made a purchase as a result of Twitter


56% of companies are using off-site social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and 23% are using on-site social media (e.g. blogs, forums, ratings & reviews)

Social Bakers gives us a little bit more insight into how digital marketing is being used in the Middle East. The increased budgets are divided into the following categories:

28% goes to email marketing, 27% to social media marketing, 20% to Google Adwords, 10% to SMS marketing, 5% to smartphone app creation

According to Social Bakers, the Gulf region has the most digital marketing potential, starting with the UAE, followed closely by Saudi Arabia, with Qatar and Bahrain trailing far behind.

And which marketing method has the most potential according to the study? It’s not surprising that the method that snags the number one spot is social media.

Overall Internet Usage

When it comes to overall Internet usage, Saudi Arabia is in the lead. The Gulf kingdom has the highest home broadband penetration, the highest number of active domains, and the second highest mobile Internet usage in the region. Saudi Arabia also has the highest number of Internet accounts, followed by Egypt:

Internet Accounts (In thousands): Saudi Arabia 2852, Egypt 1782, Syria 1100, UAE 900, Libya 785, Tunisia 543, Kuwait 525, Lebanon 440, Jordan 346, Bahrain 155, Qatar 151, Oman 67

While it’s well known that Lebanon suffers from cripplingly slow Internet speeds, a surprising statistic on Internet usage in Jordan is the fact that over 50% of Jordanian Internet users are on Internet speeds of 512kbps or less.

Another surprising statistic on World Statistics shows that Iran has the highest number of Internet users at over 36 million. The country with the highest growth rate in the Middle East is Yemen, with a staggering 15,560% increase.

The increase in Internet usage throughout the region in the past 10 years has increased by 65 million (1,987%), second only to Africa’s growth rate.


E-commerce has seen a significant shift in the past couple of years in the Middle East. According to statistics on Discover Digital Arabia:

  • 4 out of 10 Internet users in the Gulf used e-commerce in 2010
  • MasterCard survey shows Internet commerce in UAE is increased by 42% from 2010.
  • Retailers across Middle East sell $90 billion in goods and services online in 2010, up 37% from last year
  • 32% of MENA Internet users buy online.
  • Egypt’s online consumers spent an estimated $ 2.1 billion on retail e-commerce during 2009.
In addition to interesting statistics, Discover Digital Arabia will be providing infographics using the statistics they compile:
With far more players interested in the Middle East as a potential e-commerce market, and far more curiosity regarding the region’s social media usage, many companies are stepping up to conduct surveys and dig deeper into the actual numbers, and so in turn, we can expect Discover Digital Arabia to become a goldmine of information on the Middle East’s online activities.