First Published: 2005-09-16

 
The Digital Divide in the Middle East
 

The Arab world will suffer serious problems if it fails to take advantage of the emerging information technologies and bridge the digital gab, warns Abdelnasser Abdelaal.

 

Middle East Online

Pervasive computing and communication has become essential to conduct our daily affairs. However, a considerable portion of individuals do not have access to these technologies. This is referred to as “The Digital Divide”. This problem is growing to become quite serious on a global level, especially, in the Arab world. According to 2005 projections, the average Internet usage rate in Africa is only 1.8%. This rate is roughly 8.3% in the Middle East and 14.6% for the whole world. Probably, this digital gap may create a new kind of poverty, “knowledge poverty”. This type of poverty is creating an even larger gab between the haves and have-nots, digitally speaking. Bridging this digital gab has become a matter of human and civil rights in several countries. For example, the primary goal of the e-Japan initiative is building a knowledge emergent society. This society is a connected nation where all individuals have access to information technology. Europe has decided to establish a society founded on knowledge and information dissemination. Accordingly, The European Space Agency (ESA) is investing in satellite communications to bridge the digital divide gap. Moreover, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted $4 millions for the Advanced Internet Satellite Extension project whose business mission is to bridge the digital divide in remote areas. The partners of this project are North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, University of California, the University of Illinois, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Arab world will suffer serious problems if it fails to take advantage of the emerging information technologies and bridge the digital gab. The current rise of oil prices could be used to fund such investment in human resources. This is to say that the Arab world is in great danger of falling behind, if it does not allocate enough resources and give high priority to invest in this area. The region is endowed with natural resources such as oil and tourism attractions leading to a narrow economy focusing mainly on these natural resources. Indeed, oil and tourism industries could play as driving engines for information technology because both need very robust information systems and communications channels because of the mobility of tourists, their high purchasing power, and the multi-national sphere of the oil industry. Investing in this field will lead to a sustainable economic growth driven by knowledge not commodities. Of course, it is obvious that oil, which is considered the prime engine of growth and wealth creation in this area, will not last for long.

Although two thirds of the international oil supply comes from this area, only six countries have been classified as reach, and the other 18 Arab countries have been considered poor in 2004. Currently, more than 50 % of the GDP in the major developed countries is based on developing and distribution of knowledge. Actually, the future ideal economy is knowledge-driven not commodity-driven. The Malaysian government is a ware that knowledge and information technology are the engine for sustainable economic growth and they are racing in this regard. Some Arab countries such as UAE authorities are aware of that too, so they are investing in different areas including information technology. Actually, they are working to make Dubai the main e-commerce hub for the region, including south Asia.

The low density of Arab inhabitants, because of their locations in remote areas, vast deserts, mountains, and forests, prevents building a full coverage of wireline communications infrastructure. Fortunately, broadband satellite communications, especially GEO satellite systems, can provide high speed internet, digital TV, mobile phone service, and other wireless services for such areas at an affordable cost. A combination of WiFi technology and satellite receivers could provide connectivity without a need for wire line infrastructure. In addition, broadband satellite communications have several advantages over wireline communications such as global coverage, multicasting capability, bandwidth on demand, flexibility, and broadband capability. Therefore, they are an excellent solution to bridge the digital divide in the Arab world and provide broadband Internet access to disadvantaged and remote areas.

This disparity of Arab inhabitants necessitates the need for e-government, e-learning, e-health, e-commerce, and m-commerce services. Again, this could be achieved by providing broadband satellite communications to achieve digital inclusion for the Arab world. Technically speaking, three GEO satellites are enough to cover the whole globe at any given time. That means one GEO satellite is enough to cover the whole Arab world at a very affordable cost comparing to terrestrial communication infrastructure. In addition, covering the Arab world with wireless communication infrastructure will promote e-commerce and accelerate the economic growth in the area as well. Therefore, the Arab countries need to cooperate and invest in broadband satellite communications especially the new generation of BGAN satellite systems.

Unlike European Union, the Arab countries have several common factors and a better foundation which could act as drivers for establishing a homogeneous society based on information dissemination. These factors are, but not limited to, the common language, culture, and religion in most cases. For example, Pakistanis, who work in the gulf countries, Europe, and USA, are closer to Indians than to Arabs because of the language although they are enemies back home. Arabs should rely on the common language in this regard. Information dissemination improves economic, social, and political inclusion for remote and disadvantaged areas. This will help to eliminate the ethnic problems and marginalization in different areas of the Arab world such as south Sudan, north Iraq, south Morocco, south Libya, and north Syria, etc. in addition, information dissemination will help to eliminate terrorism and promote democracy and human rights in the region.

Abdelnasser Abdelaal

mesrnile@yahoo.com

Wireless communications Specialist

University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA

 

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Students in Damascus brave shelling to attend school

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant

Morocco arrests three suspected IS terrorists

Family of dead environmentalist in Iran threatened

Israel hands life sentence to Palestinian for triple murder

US appeals to Turkey to concentrate on fighting IS

Turkey sets up new 'observation point' in Syria's Idlib

Malaysia rejects criticism over Israeli visit

Tillerson in Ankara to ease Turkey tensions

Egypt arrests ex-presidential candidate

Tillerson: Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's 'political process'

Netanyahu says government ‘stable’ despite police recommending indictment

Corruption accusations facing Netanyahu

Syria denies ‘unacceptable’ chemical weapons use

Nations pledge nearly $25 billion toward Iraq's reconstruction

Egypt remands in custody former anti-corruption chief