Al-Qarar Center for Media Studies

I haven’t posted for a while as I a) figure out what makes sense to cover given Ahmed al-Omran’s excellent coverage of Saudi media over at Riyadh Bureau (which you should absolutely sign up for!) and b) deal with trying to finish my dissertation.

One thing I’ve come across recently (that I don’t fully understand but find interesting nontheless) is the Al-Qarar Center for Media Studies – an “independent” Saudi research center that seems remarkably well-funded to conduct analysis of social- and traditional-media trends in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region, and elsewhere. Each of which are in turn accompanied by slick infographics for social-media sharing.

Infographic about “Hamad’s Talk” – on a video purportedly of former-Emir Hamad

Some of the content from the Center appears to be a mix of standard Saudi-nationalist tropes, i.e.:

  • Qatar, and especially Father Emir Hamad bin Khalifah (June 15) – though with a slightly more conciliatory tone (post al-Ula) of conceding that “The Two Hamads” (Emir Hamad and former Foreign Ministry Hamad bin Jassem) might not be fully in control behind the scenes
  • Al-Jazeera’s “incitement” towards Saudi Arabia – including a 28-page report from April 2020
  • The threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood – even in Israel

Still, this is all mixed in with more banal content such as thoughts on the use of emojis, a review of Saudi ministries’ use of Twitter accounts, and a review of the Israel-Palestine peace process (?).

No names are listed anywhere on the site. A LinkedIn search turned up one Saudi employee who had studied social-media analytics and the dynamics of the Saudi social-media environment in the United States (who started early 2020) and an Egyptian marketing specialist (who started early 2021). Studies from the center suddenly started appearing in Saudi media outlets in early 2020, with no indication as to just what this center was. One op-ed carries a byline of Bayna al-Mulhim, a Saudi writer and security studies researcher who has focused on “intellectual security” and written on social-media dynamics.

The center’s Twitter account has been around since January 2016 but the web page appears to have been active only since early 2020 or so.

While it is speculative, the approach of advancing pro-government narratives with social-media analytics does call to mind some of Saud al-Qahtani’s past work [See Update – Probably Not Him]. Some of the analysis is quite simplistic, like analyzing a mere 100 tweets to gauge Saudi sentiment towards the Egyptian government (surprise! they were supportive). Early 2020 would have been shortly after Saud al-Qahtani’s official rehabilitation within Saudi Arabia… which is still not much to go on.

One report from late May, however, was entirely about Saud al-Qahtani’s online appeal, after one particular nationalist influencer (Muhammad Sa’id of Okaz) Tweeted in praise of Qahtani’s “successes.” Whether due to the substantial fanbase Qahtani still has in Saudi nationalist spaces or more centralized amplification, the hashtag took off… at least so far as we know from the article. The article suggests that:

Saudi society… remembers to give credit where credit is due. This was confirmed by the engagement of Saudi users with the tweet published by the op-ed writer Muhammad Al-Sa’id and which included the hashtag (#Saud_Al-Qahtani) [in Arabic] accompanied by the phrase “By God, we did not give you your due.” The hashtag appeared in tweets 1,202,995 times, and the number of times users interacting with the tweet reached 105,654.

The “most important personalities on the hashtag” form part of a “who’s who” of Saudi nationalist influencers, including Monther Al Mubarak and Prince ‘Abd al-Rahman bin Busa’id. Some of the bullet points on the right are… a bit much as well, with sentiment analysis pulling up:

  • Acknowledging his (Qahtani’s) role in service to the nation
  • Missing (i.e. longing for) His Excellency the Minister
  • Different parts of society longing to see him again
  • The fact that his work lives on despite his absence

There is also the odd fact that “means of expression” only adds up to about 53% or so? (Middle Right).

Just an odd entity overall. Probably not a “public interest” research center if ownership and operations is entirely anonymous… so perhaps an effort to narrate more convincingly the “state of the Discourse” in Saudi Twitter.

Update

Sultan al-Amer points out that Nayef al-Zahim is noted as CEO of the “Al-Qarar Center for Media Consultancy and Studies.” This is almost certainly it, especially as Nayef describes himself as an “expert in media analysis and planning” and who writes for Al-Riyadh (where Bayna al-Mulhim also writes). Additionally, AlQarar’s domain name is registered under Nayef’s company name.

Still, Nayef makes no note of the center on his Twitter profile, nor on his LinkedIn page (beyond describing himself as a “media advisor in the government and private sectors.” Sultan suggests that Nayef is probably trying to drum up business in the form of government contracts, promising government officials the ability to either analyze public sentiment towards their ministries and agencies, or to help seed their preferred narratives on social media. This would certainly explain an early focus on “how ministries’ Twitter accounts are doing.”

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