In recent weeks I’ve been exploring the railways of the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) through their digital and social communications. How do these organisations represent themselves online, and how do they help passengers and freight customers complete their journeys? After all, the populations of these countries – young and old – are as adept as people anywhere else in the world with using digital and social platforms, including online payments.
Why have I been doing this? Well, when people are doing professional jobs so their work deserves to be taken seriously. I’m a firm believer in honouring the work ‘normal’ people and organisations do to create a functioning society and economy, rather than relying on abstract academic reports or skewed media reports. I also don’t see the value in just taking a pan-Arab approach and lumping 16 diverse countries together. They have differing national languages, different societies and geographical settings. After all, it is said, ‘Geography makes history’. The railways are a good way to highlight the differences and to better explain these Arab countries to outsiders.
Of the 16 main Arab countries I’ve included the 8 that currently run trains. Libya, Lebanon and Jordan have not run trains for many years. Dubai/UAE does have a metro but I plan to review the digital communications of MENA metro systems (Cairo, Dubai etc) separately in future posts. The other countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen) have never had railways.
As regular readers know by now, I believe railway systems can give a snapshot of the health of the country they operate within, mainly because for a railway to function successfully many elements of security, economy and civil society must work together smoothly in order to run regular services. For more on this see the introductory post here.
Anyone looking at the MENA region will see whole countries enveloped in disaster and tragedy. As I write this, there is no real end in sight for the terrible conflicts in Libya, Syria or Yemen. Sudan is stabilising after years of conflict and the secession of South Sudan. Iraq is hardly stable after years of conflict, foreign interference and economic woes. Lebanon is currently suffering economic collapse. Algeria suffered a long period of security troubles. Egypt’s railways shut down completely for 6 months in 2013 following the political turmoil there but have now recovered. From Ahmed Omran’s YouTube fan channel on Egyptian Railways:
I use 12 criteria to score the digital and social communications of MENA Arab railways. This is to create a standard system that can cover the whole comms spectrum from the basic to the most sophisticated. Obviously I could score in more detail and might do so in the future. The 12 criteria are:
I was delighted to see the only 2 of the 8 railways scored below 50%. Syria (1/12) is understandable but Sudan (2/12) is the more disappointing because its website promises more than it delivers and there it does seem to have services to publicise.
I was pleased to see Iraq score 50% (6/12) and it could score some extra points with little effort.
Of course I offer my hearty congratulations to the railways that are doing things right, often with panache and finesse! ONCF Moroccan Railways came top with full marks 100% 12/12: truly excellent. I still haven’t received any newsletters however….
Of the others, most scored highly because of their apps and good Facebook accounts that show they are engaging and innovating. Well done to ENR Egypt, SNCFT Tunisia, SNTF Algeria and the three Saudi Arabian railway systems. So this year’s scores are:
Actually the railways of North Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) all scored highly, while the Levant came a distant 3rd after the Arabian peninsular/Gulf region. For a detailed breakdown of each of the 8 systems please follow the links to the relevant posts.
I’ve enjoyed researching and writing this series of reviews so I might be back in a year’s time to make this an annual event. Good luck to all the teams and individuals working to produce professional communications in all environments across the Middle East and North Africa.
If you would like to ask any questions or provide extra information please get in touch with me.