Middle East Edition Overview
The Middle East has a population of 231,062,860.1 Internet users as at December, 2013, stood at 103,829,614 or 44.9% of the population.2 The region had 23,811,620 Facebook users as at December, 2012.
In Q4 of 2012 the total number of mobile subscribers in the Middle East was approximately 265,023,828 and in Q4 of 2013 the total was approximately 276,944,729, a year-on-year increase of approximately 4.5%.3 This figure includes both contract and pre-paid connections.
With currently 359,340,6464 Arabic speakers worldwide, only 1.2% of web sites5 are in Arabic. At the Internet Government Forum on 15 - 18 November 2009 in Sharm El Sheikh6, it was announced that Egypt would be the first to apply to have an Arabic language domain. In May of 2010, the first three Arabic IDN ccTLDs were announced, each the Arabic name for the country in question.7 The first three domains to come into use were: Egypt’s .مصر (romanized as .Masr) Saudi Arabia’s السعودية (romanized as .AlSaudiah) and the United Arab Emirates’ امارات (romanized as .Emarat).
This predominantly Arabic-speaking region is set to benefit from the creation of gTLDs (generic Top-Level Domains) allowing domains to use languages other than English characters, which should come into effect in mid-2013.8 In March, 2013, it was announced that the first 30 gTLDs had passed their Initial Evaluation (IE) by ICANN, with results listed in priority order.9 The gTLD of شبكة translates as .web10 and is romanized as .Shabaka11.
Countries in the Middle East continue to invest in information and communications infrastructure as part of their strategies to develop their local economies, create employment and educate a rapidly growing population. With 30% of the population of the Middle East under 30 years of age12, ICT and online safety have become a priority13. Across the region, youth has a median age of 22 as opposed to a global average of 28.14
Although there has been a continued liberalization of telecommunications markets in many Arab countries (in particular Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) this does not extend to content and the Middle East remains one of the most heavily censored regions in the world. Although there are very few Internet-specific laws to regulate Internet activities, government surveillance and monitoring is commonplace. Internet cafes in Egypt, Jordon, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen are all subject to varying degrees of scrutiny. Country level filtering of adult content (such as pornography, nudity, gay and lesbian content and escort and dating services) and rigorous ISP oversight probably provides a safer online environment for children.15 It is, however, done within the wider context of political and cultural norms that would appear restrictive outside the region.
A significant organization within the region is AICTO, the Arab Information and Communication Technologies Organization. Founded in 2001, with its headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, AICTO works on several fronts to promote common strategies, policies and best practice for ICT development throughout the Arab region, as well as promoting investment in the region. AICTO’s working group on e-Certification and Cybersecurity (WG3) is working towards launching projects which deal with such topics as e-Government, e-learning and information and computer security. With a membership of 20 Arab states across the Middle East and Africa, AICTO aims to coordinate members’ positions in terms of standards and the preparation of policies and guidelines which relate to ICT development. To find out more go to http://www.aicto.org/index.php?id=12
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Effective Measures, Spotlight PR, (2010). Media Consumption and Habits of MENA Internet Users. Whilst not detailing the habits of children specifically, 29% of the 2,500 respondents fall in the fifteen to 20 years age-range. The survey gives details as to the nature of activities undertaken by respondents, with a gender split so that differences between males and females can be noted. To read the research in full go to http://www.spotonpr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/MENAInternetSurvey22Jul10.pdf
GSMA Development Fund, (2010). Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity. A study on the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries. This report identifies the gender gap for mobile phone ownership in such countries, the benefits that can be achieved by changing attitudes and makes recommendations as to next steps. To read the report in full go to http://www.gsmworld.com/documents/Women_mobile_web.pdf
Page last reviewed September 5, 2014
1 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm (last accessed August 28, 2014)
2 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm (last accessed August 28, 2014)
3 https://gsmaintelligence.com/ (last accessed August 28, 2014)
4 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats19.htm (last accessed April 12, 2013)
5 http://w3techs.com/technologies/details/cl-ar-/all/all (last accessed April 12, 2013)
6 http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/2009/Sharm%20El%20Sheikh%2015%20November%202009%20Opening%20Ceremony.pdf (last accessed April 12, 2013)
7 http://www.icann.org/en/news/announcements/announcement-05may10-en.htm (last accessed April 12, 2013
8 http://www.ariservices.com/news-arabic_internet_use_set_to_shift.php (last accessed April 12, 2013)
9 http://www.icann.org/en/news/announcements/announcement-22mar13-en.htm (last accessed April 12, 2013)
10 https://gtldresult.icann.org/application-result/applicationstatus/applicationdetails:downloadapplication/189?t:ac=189 (last accessed April 12, 2013)
11 http://www.ariservices.com/news-arabic_internet_use_set_to_shift.php (last accessed April 12, 2013)
12 http://www.brookings.edu/research/topics/middle-east-youth (last accessed April 12, 2013)
13 http://www.fosi.org/doha2012-conference-summary.html (last accessed April 12, 2013)
14 http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/424 (last accessed April 12, 2013)
15 http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena (last accessed April 12, 2013)