HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Virtual Presence in the Middle East

One of the great phenomena of the late 20th and 21st century as we know it today is the proliferation of our personal online presence. To a large extent people of developed countries experience the internet in some form every day. This article explores the development of the online community in the Middle East. Before we continue further, let me provide a disclaimer: The data contained in this article is not so much a scientifically rigorous analysis of the scenario. This is more of a qualitative examination.

One of the simplest ways to measure a country’s online presence is the download speed at the end user. Ookla an online speed test website better known to most of us as aggregates their test data per country on Net Index. By far exceeding other Middle Eastern countries, the UAE ranks at 14.09 Mbps and Israel at 13.55 with the rest for the most part sitting below 5 Mbps. For comparison the United States sits at 16.55 On average the Middle East ranks at 5.10 Mb/s. The world average is 13.13 Mbps.
Global Map of Download Speeds
 NetIndex Ookla
Of course internet speeds alone are a fairly coarse indicator of online presence. A vast majority of landmass in the United States remains unserved by high speed internet with the latest FCC broadband initiative setting the benchmark at 6 Mbps – low by most standards. To measure more parameters of online presence, I wrote several scripts to analyze the location of online users of, and All of which used publicly available data. To comply with the terms of use of each of these websites, no data was collected on usernames or user content. Furthermore the usage was spread out over several days and required as little page loads as possible. The only data collected was the location and date of post.
Each of these websites were chosen for providing some way to judge user location. posts user location in their reviews. logs all page edits made without logging in with an IP address. Using a IP reverse lookup service I was able to extract a geographical location of the user (approximate). 
As a note: originally data was to be downloaded from, however while Amazon will ship to the Middle East  (surprisingly cheaply), few middle easterners posted reviews for the products I extracted data from (The Amazon Kindle for one – which is available in Wifi versions and is remarkably cheap for what it is – and supports Arabic). So we move on to Apple.
We begin our analysis by looking at reviews of the Apple Ear Pod, compatible with iphones and ipods. We choose this device because of its presence in the mobile market. Unfortunately despite its presence the UAE website (the only apple store in the middle east region) has no reviews on this or in fact many of the products. Nevertheless the results are compiled from the top 300 results of each of the US and Australian pages.
Locations of Apple Reviewers for Apple Ear Pods
Data provided by, collected with Matlab, with locations converted to global coordinates using gps visualizer and Yahoo’s geocoding database. Map plotting courtesy of Map textures, imagery, and geographical data property of Blackouts on map hide my google username and the location of the temporary .kml files used as input to Google Maps.
Interpreting the results we see 2 balloons in Saudi Arabia, where there are 1.69 mobile phones per person, and considering 25% of internet users in the Middle East access data using a mobile browser this is a disproportionately small number of users even considering the language barrier. English is a language being taught in the Middle East, and the majority of users of the internet in the Middle East continue to be in their 20s and younger.
Smartphone Adoption Globally
Forrester Research Group 
However, we can all see that the data from this extraction is very English centric. So in order to collect more relevent data to our question we move on to For the purposes of this analysis we read data from the edit histories of the Arabic and English pages of for IP editors. 
Looking back to 2009 we extracted 261 IP addresses and corresponding locations (non-unique) from the English page, and 89 from the Arabic page. To put this in perspective, English has 365 million speakers while Arabic has 280 million.
IP Edit Locations for Wikipedia Water Article in Arabic Image
IP Edit Locations for Wikipedia Water Article in English
Data for both maps courtesy of, collected using custom Matlab script with geoIP conversion using Map plotting courtesy of Map textures, imagery, and geographical data property of Blackouts on map hide my google username and the location of the temporary .kml files used as input to Google Maps.
From the two maps, I’d argue that the number of Arabic speakers involved in the online world as a percentage of overall population is less than that of the English speaking world. Whether this is a function of infrastructure, culture, or a delay in the inception of the internet the population at large – is a question for further investigations.


  1. chai164 says:

    I think that outside of North America and Europe, a lot of services are not provided online. Even if they are, it’s usually cheaper, faster, and more efficient to visit a store than to look up stuff online. That might be one of the reasons that the apple data looks so sparse in the Middle East. this seems like it’s slowly changing now though for small services like restaurant reviews and pizza delivery.

    I think if you checked the number of users from the region on social networking sites, you would see different results. Surprising as it is, I think that outside of the social media aspect, people there don’t use the internet that much.

  2. kolson23 says:

    Very interesting blog. I like how you decided to collect data on a topic instead of going with a news story. I too wonder if the differences in infrastructure, which could also lead to delayed inception of internet among the middle east, is the cause of the differences in user numbers. I also think that western culture is now heavily involved with technology and the internet. I know I spend a good deal of time online each day doing homework and messing around and I think many others do to, but I wonder if this is the same in the Middle East.

  3. akranc3 says:

    Pretty interesting. I like that you put the effort in to write scripts to find where people were posting from. One big disparity that you nailed for differences in online activity in the Middle East is infrastructure. The infrastructure in the Middle East cannot compare to that of the West. Thus, there will be a larger proportion of people using the internet where they actually get it through fiberoptics instead of by satellite. Also, people in the West essentially cannot live without the internet. If you took email and Facebook away from say, your mom, she would go berserk 😛

  4. phillipscheng says:

    Haha, yeah, we are pretty reliant on the internet here in the US at least. I wanted to point out why I didn’t mine social media like twitter and facebook. I didn’t mine those sites for data because they don’t publicly disclose poster’s IPs or geographical reported location

    Another way of looking at the data is possibly by mining flickr for GPS tagged photos – but that requires significantly more time and is probably significantly creepier.

  5. jdowling6 says:

    Very interesting post! This makes me wonder about what all possibilities are there that could explain why the Internet doesn’t seem very popular in the Middle East. I can’t think of any one reason that could explain it. I believe that maybe people do start to rely more and more on the Internet in Iran as it modernizes but are careful in not advertising it. Also, they probably do not buy online from the same popular merchants as we do and are more careful in not surfing sites that we may, as in Facebook, Wikipedia, Amazon, Apple, etc. What’s more, for all we know they have their own versions of such.

  6. flambert3 says:

    I think the slower to initiate modern industry to use internet and the cultural differences make a lot of the differences. Along with documentation of middle eastern technologies. We recently gained asses to a lot of their works and still trying to learn more.

  7. drippykins says:

    Cool blog post, nice work. I think chai164 and some others made a great point: we seem to be quite reliant on internet here for just about everything. Shopping, social media, music, food, news, gaming, business, and so on are all becoming normal things Americans use on a daily basis. I wonder if it’s similar in the ME? Perhaps they don’t quite have the infrastructure like we do, but even if they did, I wouldn’t think society there would behave quite like ours as far as internet use and activity.

    Also, consider the restrictions that are on internet activity in some countries in the ME. Censorship is quite rampant there, which could hinder activity on social media sites and blogging. I know in the UAE it’s illegal for public dissent.

  8. shaimsn says:

    Amazing work!

    Actually, one of the major cables that connects Pakistan’s to the Internet was damaged today. Internet speed fell by 60% nationwide.

    So yup, infrastructure is a definitely a problem.

    PD: Tell me about it. Internet speed in Venezuela sucks.

  9. mitch7991 says:

    I believe that the lack in internet communication by the Middle East has a lot to do with its modernity and the culture it came from. It is already known that the Middle East is very friendly to outside influence and that includes the internet. I would venture to say the some see it as unlawful. In the maps and from the analysis, Israel is among those who use the internet the most in the Middle East. But even they are pretty modern in their economy and open to outside influence. It also seems that there might be a divide in the population of the Middle East between younger and older people. Those in control right now or who are fighting for power seem to be on the side that prohibits the internet. Yet it is picking up quick among the younger generations. And soon I wouldn’t be surprised to see an uprising because of it.

  10. nholdaway3 says:

    It is interesting to look at how in America the older generations try to understand new technologies because they want to stay in touch with the younger generations. For instance, my grandmother got her first smart phone 6 months ago mainly to stay in contact with her grandchildren.

    I wonder if the lack of internet progress in the Middle East is due to the older generations not wanting to understand the younger generations culture or if it is religious/power related or perhaps a combination of them all?

  11. marymsherman says:

    Wow this was really interesting. I enjoyed looking at your data and how you communicated your point effectively using it. It would have been nice to see data from social media (as stated in the comments a few times), but let’s not break any laws for a HTS blog post…
    Talking about infrastructure, you can see that the internet backbone skips over the Middle East completely
    I wonder how much time is needed to remedy this clear connectivity problem in the area.

  12. jbholleman says:

    Through a quick search I found a site with a ton of internet usage statistics around the world:

    Through this, you can see that there is actually a large percentage of the population in the area with internet access. The UAE, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, and Qatar have over 70% population penetration with Qatar having 86%. If you compare this to the United States’ 78%, you could say that many Middle Eastern countries have as good internet as the leading world power if not better.

    There is also a link to a Middle East Digital Media, Broadband and Internet Telecommunications Market Report, which states that even though internet population densities are lower, you have to take into account the larger family sizes and large groups of expatiate hostel accommodations. They also report that growing internet usage across the Middle East is highlighting the under-representation of Arabic content online, and that there are groups working to change this as the demand for internet grows.

  13. mjuren3 says:

    I feel that the repressive nature of the governments in place in the Middle East which sensor their population’s internet activity is a part of the reason for the lower amount of internet participation in the region, with people being afraid of getting in trouble for searching certain things or expressing negative views of their government/society. However,it is important not to overgeneralize. For example, one of the first people who told the world about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound located in an out of the way place in Pakistan was a neighbor of his who tweeted about the attack as it was happening.

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