Untangling The Middle East Through Data Visualization

The Middle East is a complicated and tangled web of different factions spread across an increasingly diverse landscape. This makes it a region that, although at the center of international news coverage, is often difficult to understand. That may be one reason why data groups are investing in engineering creative ways to present statistics coming out of the Middle East in more comprehensible graphs and visualizations. These groups have become attuned to the difficulty of deciphering exactly what information means in the grander scheme of things, and they are working out unique ways to compile that information in hopes that people will pay more attention to it.

So far, this has been a successful endeavor for many of these organizations, and has encouraged a form of creativity that simultaneously highlights important statistics. This year, the Kantar Information Is Beautiful awards recognized a select few of these organizations for their exemplary work in the field. Below are three of the finalists which I thought were especially effective in their visualizations of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Network of Syria’s Civil War, Quartz


The first is a project by Quartz. It’s an interactive map which demonstrates exactly how each actor in the Syrian conflict interacts with one another. By scrolling over a country or group, you are able to see the relationship that organization has with other factions. For example, place your mouse over Qatar and you can see the country is allied with the Islamic Front and is actively fighting ISIS.

Obviously this map is a broad overview of a conflict that can’t be explained in one graphic, but it does give a baseline understanding of who is fighting who, and hopefully encourages a further understanding of why this conflict has become so convoluted.

Missing Migrants Map, Valerio Pellegrini and Michele Mauri


Another finalist in the Kantar Awards was the project The Missing Migrants Map, visualizing data recorded through The Missing Migrant Project, a project by IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre and Media and Communications Division. The refugee crises has been at the forefront of international attention since 2015 when migration surged into Europe mainly from the Middle East and North Africa. This map helps the public grasp exactly how many people have been affected, specifically tracking those who have died or gone missing in their attempt to reach Europe. It visualizes shocking statistics with the goal of putting forth the notion that we are all citizens of the world.

Ejje with IS Cremes, Data Cuisine


One of the most unique projects to come out of the Kantar Awards is work by the innovative group Data Cuisine. This organization uses intricate culinary dishes to express statistics and facts across a variety of international affairs. As Data Cuisine puts it, they “research ways to represent local open data in local food, through its inherent qualities such as color, form, texture, smell, taste, nutrition, origin etc”.

They’ve used this original approach to present a couple of different issues in the Middle East, such as people using Facebook during the Arab Spring and statistics on blocked internet access in Iran. This project is effective in its ability to first draw an audience in through visual appeal, all while pushing forward important information.

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