Executive Summary

 Below are the key findings from this study, which are explored in detail in each chapter. See the data interactive to custom-filter and explore the results directly.[1]


Cultural Attitudes[1]

  • Fewer nationals now than in 2014 say films and TV content from the Arab region are good for morality, while the share of nationals who say such content from the U.S./Hollywood is good for morality has increased.
  • A majority of Arab nationals say they prefer films that portray their own culture.
  • However, a majority of nationals also say their culture should do more to integrate with modern society. 
  • Half of nationals say entertainment media challenge, rather than strengthen, cultural stereotypes.
  • Most Arab nationals watch Arabic-language entertainment content, though more nationals now than in 2016 say some of their favorite TV shows are in another language.

Censorship & Digital Privacy

  • Majorities of nationals in most countries support online freedom of expression generally; majorities of Qataris, Saudis, Lebanese, and Emiratis say it’s OK for people to express their ideas on the internet, even if those ideas are unpopular. More Qataris express such support (68%) than do other nationals.
  • And yet minorities of nationals in three countries—Qatar, Tunisia, and UAE—say people should be free to criticize governments online, whereas majorities of nationals only in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon say the same.
  • Only in Egypt and Saudi Arabia do a majority of nationals say it is the responsibility of government to block objectionable content; in all other countries, a majority or a plurality says it is the responsibility of each individual to avoid objectionable content. 
  • Most nationals in all countries, except Tunisia, say films and other entertainment content should be banned if some people find them offensive.
  • Majorities of nationals in four countries say concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, and this figure more than doubled since 2017 in six of seven countries surveyed (all but Egypt).
  • More nationals say WhatsApp is the social media platform that provides the most privacy compared to other platforms (29% of nationals), and no other social media platform was chosen by more than 8% of nationals.

Media Use by Platform

  • Use of media in the Arabic language has either increased or remained the same among Arab nationals. Approximately the same percentages of Arab nationals in 2018 say they watch TV, films, and read print materials in Arabic (92%, 87%, and 61%, respectively) as reported doing so in 2014, while the shares of nationals who listen to Arabic-language music increased in the same time period. 
  • More Arab nationals are paying for online media content. More nationals in 2018 than in 2016 say they paid for online music, sports, or film content in the past year, though the figures for each are below 10%.  
  • Slightly more nationals now say they read books, read newspapers, or read magazines than reported doing so in 2016. This may be partly related to the rapid increase in education among nationals in the surveyed countries; the percentage of nationals who say they completed a four-year college degree increased dramatically between 2014 and 2018 in four of seven countries: from 24% to 59% of Emiratis, 30% to 47% of Qataris, 5% to 20% of Tunisians, and 19% to 26% of Saudis.
  • While movie cinemas struggle to attract audiences in many places in the U.S. and Western Europe, large percentages of Arab nationals in all countries, except Egypt and Jordan, go to the movies at least once a month; figures range from 24% of Lebanese to 59% of Emiratis.
  • The percentage of Arab nationals who said they watched TV content on an actual television in the past six months dropped to 81% from 89% in 2016. However, the share of nationals who watched TV content on a phone in the last six months rose to 13% from 4% in the same period.

Online & Social Media

  • Facebook penetration continues to fall among nationals in all countries. In 2013, 88% or more of internet users in these Arab countries used Facebook. In 2018, three countries reported Facebook penetration rates lower than 50%, including just 9% in Qatar, the lowest known figure in any high-income country. 
  • Other major platforms owned by Facebook also show signs of decline. WhatsApp penetration among internet users has fallen by 7 percentage points since 2015, and penetration rates for Instagram and Facebook Messenger both declined slightly since 2017 (by 3 and 4 points, respectively).
  • Twitter penetration in Arab countries has plummeted. In 2013, 40% or more of internet users in five of the countries studied here used Twitter. Today, the same statement is true for only two of the countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and even in those countries Twitter penetration dropped significantly in the past five years. Twitter penetration also dropped from 37% to 9% among internet users in Egypt from 2014 to 2018.
  • Seven in 10 of all nationals use the internet in Arabic, while just 27% use the internet in English.
  • The average number of hours Arab nationals spend with family and with friends online increased since 2017, while the amount of time nationals spend in person with family decreased during the same period.


  • The percentage of nationals who watch films in a cinema has increased in several countries since 2014 (UAE, Qatar, and Tunisia). Even in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas were only reintroduced to the public in April 2018, 42% of Saudis say they had recently seen a film in a cinema.  
  • Seventy-six percent of Saudis say they are likely to go to the cinema if/when there is one nearby.
  • The percentage of Arab nationals who say they watch films in Arabic and English remains unchanged from 2014 to 2018, and Arabic films are still watched by twice as many nationals as are English films (Arabic: 87% in 2014 and 2018; English: 43% in 2014 and 44% in 2018).   


  • The percentage of nationals who watch TV every day fell from 69% to 54% between 2014 to 2018. However, the share of nationals who watch TV at all was unchanged over the same time period (95% and 94%, respectively).
  • Binge-watching TV/online content is reported by significantly more nationals now than in 2016 having increased from 32% to 40%. However, far fewer Arab nationals than people in the U.S. binge-watch content (76%).
  • Most nationals in all countries, except Jordan, watch TV shows from their own country, and most nationals in all countries also watch TV shows from elsewhere in the Arab region (with Egypt and Tunisia as the only exceptions). Twenty percent or less of nationals in all countries watch TV programming from the U.S., and fewer than 10% in all countries watch content from Turkey (with Lebanon as the lone exception).
  • Eighty-seven percent of the youngest nationals watch Arabic-language TV content, not much less than the same figure among the oldest respondents (92%).

Music & Podcasts

  • Podcasts are popular among Arab nationals. Large majorities of Saudis and Emiratis listen to podcasts (68% and 64%, respectively), and 30% of both Qataris and Tunisians do so. The medium is less popular in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.
  • Arabic podcasts seem readily available. Seventy-five percent or more of nationals who use podcasts in five countries listen to Arabic content. Lebanese nationals listen to podcasts in English at the highest rate, 52%.
  • Younger Arab nationals are more likely to listen to podcasts in Arabic than older nationals (under 45 vs. 45+).
  • The percentage of nationals who post or comment about music online increased in most countries (specifically, the percent of nationals who posted/commented on music in the past month).
  • Music videos on TV remain a popular means of listening to music. The youngest Arab nationals are the most likely age group to cite music videos as a favorite genre of TV (18-24 year-olds).
  • Most nationals listen to music online, but only small percentages in each country pay to listen to music online (ranging from 1% to 11%).


  • Roughly the same percentage of nationals plays video games now as did in 2014, but many who play are devoting more time to it. Qatari gamers spent an average of 9 hours each week playing games in 2014, a number that increased 45% by 2018 to 13 hours. The time Lebanese gamers spend playing each week increased by 55%, from 11 to 17 hours.
  • Nationals who play video games now say they spend more of that time playing alone rather than with others compared to 2014 (67% in 2018 vs. 49% in 2014), and those who do play with others now spend less of that time playing with others in-person and more time playing online with others than in 2014 (online: 51% in 2018 vs. 41% in 2014).
  • Still, fewer than one in 10 video game players paid to access video games online in the past year.


  • Three in 10 Arab nationals report attending a live professional football match in the last 12 months.
  • More Arab nationals in 2018 than 2014 list sports as a favorite genre of TV and online video.
  • More Arab nationals said they are willing to pay for sports content online in 2018 than in 2016.
  • More Arab nationals in four of seven countries studied say they exercise at least once a week compared to 2014.
  • In five countries, including 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar, more nationals prefer to watch a sporting event on TV/online rather than attend the same event. Only in Lebanon and Tunisia would more nationals prefer to attend the live event.
  • A majority of nationals say they watched at least some of the 2018 World Cup. However, viewership in Tunisia and Qatar, which, respectively, played in the 2018 World Cup and will host the 2022 World Cup, was lower than several other countries.


  • Seven in 10 or more of nationals in three countries say they often or sometimes encounter political news items online that appear entirely fake (Qataris, Lebanese, Saudis), this is equal to or more than the number of U.S. residents who say the same. This question was not permitted by officials in Egypt or Jordan.
  • The share of nationals who say they watched news on TV in the past six months fell from 84% to 71% between 2016 and 2018. 
  • There appears to be no gender gap in news use. Roughly the same percentage of males and females say they accessed news on TV and online in the past six months (7 in 10 and nearly 1 in 2, respectively, for both genders).
  • The proportion of nationals who trust news media, measured using Gallup question wording, fell significantly in six of seven countries since 2017. Only in the UAE did trust in news media stay the same, and in that country 90% of nationals reported such trust, far higher than in any other country. In two countries, Jordan and Tunisia, the share of nationals who trust news media fell below the level reported in the U.S. in 2018 (45%).  
  • More users of YouTube and Twitter say they use the platform to find/consume news (6 of 10 users of each platform) than users of any other platform. Half of Facebook users say they use that service to find/consume news.
  • Nationals in all countries, except Qatar, estimate that more of the online video they consume is entertainment content versus news content. Only Qataris estimate that more of the online video they watch is news rather than entertainment.
  • Large majorities of nationals from Arab Gulf countries surveyed say news media in their country are credible, while four in 10 or fewer nationals in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia agree. We replicated this question in the U.S. in November 2018 via The Harris Poll, and only 33% of U.S. residents surveyed said news media in that country are credible, nearly identical to the number of Jordanians who agreed with the statement and only slightly higher than Tunisians who concurred. Only in Egypt and Tunisia are rates of news credibility lower than in the U.S.
  • However, minorities of nationals in five of the seven countries surveyed say media in their country can report news without interference from officials. The only countries where most nationals agree with this statement are Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Focus on Qatar

  • Far more Qataris and Egyptians than nationals in other countries say they feel comfortable speaking out about politics, a figure that skyrocketed in Qatar from 23% to 72% between 2017 and 2018; the question was not permitted by officials in Egypt in 2017. Such an increase likely has numerous causes, though it’s worth stating that 2017 Qatar data were collected just before the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar began, while 2018 data were gathered in Qatar about one year into the blockade.
  • There have been dramatic increases among Qataris agreeing with other statements about free speech. The share of Qataris who say people should be able to criticize governments online rose from 19% to 48% between 2017 and 2018, and the proportion of Qataris who say that on the internet it is safe to say whatever one thinks about politics quadrupled from 13% to 51% since 2017. 
  • Qataris spend more time each week online with friends (on average 22 hours) than any other Arab nationals surveyed. 
  • Only in Qatar does a sizeable proportion of nationals use Netflix (30%). In all countries, Shahid is the clear leader in streaming market share, though about one in three Qataris also use Shahid.
  • Since 2014, there has been a huge drop in the share of Qataris who say entertainment content from other Arab countries is good for morality (60% in 2014 to 24% in 2018), a figure that fell in other countries, though not as steeply. 
  • Qataris who play video games estimate that half of the time they spend playing is with other people, a significantly higher share of time than that reported by any other nationals.
  • One in six Qataris paid to access sports online in the past year, more than the percentage of nationals in all other countries except Saudi Arabia (where 1 in 6 also paid for such content in the same time period).   


[1] Note some figures in this report do not include Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, as officials in these countries did not permit the fielding of certain questions in some years of the Media Use in the Middle East study—Egypt and Jordan in recent years and Qatar only in 2013 and 2015. Excluded items mostly relate to censorship, government, politics, and religion. Additionally, while Jordan was surveyed in the 2013, 2017, and 2018 editions of the study, it was not included in the 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions. Therefore, Jordan data are not included when comparisons are made with the years in which Jordan was not surveyed. In all charts that do not include data from Egypt, Jordan, or Qatar, a footnote so reports.