Thomthumb84's Blog

Egypt and the Internet Era

Posted in Middle East Business by thomthumb84 on February 16, 2010

Image via Wikipedia

Egypt is an ideal contender for a push into the Middle East ICT arena. The country has Africa’s largest online population: there are 13 million internet users, a far cry from the 450,000 Egyptians using the internet 10 years ago.

As the financial crisis continues to pinch the balance sheets of the corporate sector worldwide. Egypt, however, with its large supply of low-cost skilled labor, has become a top destination in the Middle East for outsourcing.

In September Dr Hazem Abdelazim, CEO of the ITDA, said; ‘”We have seen huge growth in our ICT sector over the past year, despite the globally challenging environment. More than 10 multinational companies have expanded or outsourced their business to Egypt in the past 12 months.’

The launch of the first Internet domain name in Arabic script is a telling example of how concerned Egypt is with cornering the market. The benefits of such a scheme are phenomenal. Arabic is currently the fastest-growing language online, with about 300 million native Arabic-speakers worldwide.

Moreover, the huge deficit in online content in Arabic compared with the number of Arabs online, between 3% and 5% of all Internet users, suggests Arabic content will grow exponentially in the next few years. Within Egypt alone 65% of the internet users are not versed with the English language, making this new development an absolute necessity if the country is to find a firm foothold on the market.

Egypt has also pushed a significant amount of funds towards integrating IT into the nation’s education sector,  hoping to bring IT companies and schools together.  In April 2009, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif signed an agreement with Microsoft to develop technological collaboration across a number of sectors, including education. Other companies involved include Cisco, Intel and HP, as well as a variety of local firms.

H.E. Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, from the Office of the President of Egypt, called the scheme “a tremendous opportunity to provide Egypt’s greatest asset, its people, with the skills necessary for the 21st century.”

Despite Egypt’s dramatic push to embrace the Internet the countries’ government has suppressed the opportunities for free speech, which the Internet can provide.  Fears of countrywide dissent with political and social management have led to a wave of censorship actions against citizens.

Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), who campaign for press freedom throughout the world, have been running a long-term campaign against the Egyptian governments tight regulation of the Internet.

 “Egypt is one of the enemies of the Internet and if Internet governance requires a degree of regulation, it should be of a liberal nature and not the kind that the Egyptian government would like to impose,” stated one representative of the group.

RSF have catalogued a number of offences against the Egyptian government that threaten the rights of the citizens of their country. Two cases have received particular attention.

It was reported that Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman (otherwise known as Kareem Amer) was arrested over ‘comments he had posted online criticising discrimination against women in Egypt and authoritarian excess of the government and the highest religious authorities, including the Sunni University of Al-Azhar.’

Arrested in November 2006, Kareem Amer was given a four-year jail sentence on 22 February 2007 on charges of “insulting” the president and Islam.

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network a Cairo-based Swedish freelance journalist and blogger who covered a recent wave of factory strikes in Egypt, was denied entry on returning to the country in September. His passport was confiscated; apparently because his name appeared on a blacklist.

The Egyptian government’s actions against its citizens’ freedom to use the Internet as a form of expression and dissent is akin to
that of China.

Both countries have a strong hold over the ICT sector in their areas yet both use the Internet as a form of political suppression. China is constantly accused of censoring online material and spends inordinate amounts of time and funds maintaining their coverage and observation.

Despite this they have a more than thriving IT industry. China’s software sector alone generated 329.14 billion yuan ($48.19 billion) in revenue in the first five months of 2009, up 23.3 percent year on year. Unfortunately, very little connection can be made between the financial successes of either of these countries and their level of online content suppression. International companies continue to invest in them despite these serious human rights breaches. Until companies begin taking a more moral stand towards such issues very little will be achieved.

Published in T&C March Edition


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