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

Wireless communications Specialist

University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA


Saudi shoots down ‘toy drone’

Iran vows to resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal

Mass grave discovered under Raqa football pitch

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Can Arab satellite TV catch up with social media?

Will Lebanon have more women MPs after May 6 poll?

UN Security Council meets over Syria in Sweden

Turkish government rejects criticism of election campaign

Condemnation after Gaza teenager killed by Israeli soldiers

Syrian rebels agree to leave new area outside Damascus

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

Family accuses Israel of killing Palestinian in Malaysia

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24