Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The way forward | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Policy makers worldwide are facing a completely new and different situation. This new environment has been formed, mainly, in light of the phenomenon of information and communications technology, which is now a decisive factor in determining the development and success of nations.

It is no longer surprising to hear today that economic growth is related to one decisive element, namely information technology and communications, and people have now become fully aware of its importance.

The majority of people today have a closer relationship with their mobile phone than, for example, water and electricity. Furthermore, the amount of data being recorded and distributed internationally is expanding dramatically. This means that governments now face a serious challenge: government and business leaders will have to shoulder the awesome responsibility of renewing their rules and regulations, systems, policies and objectives in order to cope with new information technology, the internet, digital media outlets, applications and communications. They must prepare for the construction, consolidation and digitalization of their economies.

These measures, if applied soundly, have enormous potential and thus could lead to outstanding results. The countries that have managed to apply them have benefited from great economic, social and political gains. This list includes, but is not limited to, South Korea, Finland, Malaysia, India and Singapore.

The facts speak louder than words. Iceland boasts proud the largest number of internet users in the world, with an average of 95 percent of its population online in 2011. In South Korea, 97.2 percent of households are connected to the internet, and the country has the second largest number of mobile internet users after Singapore. At the other end of the scale, in a state like Niger, only 1 percent of households are connected to the internet. A survey carried out on developing countries across the world shows that an average of 20.5 percent of people have access to the internet.

The Philippines has the highest proportion of social network users, with 93.9 percent of its population using at least one of the social messaging services on offer. The tiny state of East Timor ranked lowest in the world in terms of internet usage in 2011, with only 0.9 percent of its 1.2 million residents connecting online.

Finally, the proportion of households with fixed broadband subscriptions in Canada and the US stands at 32 percent and 28.7 percent respectively.

The Arab world seems pleased and enthusiastic whenever a technology company reveals how much mobile phones and the internet have revolutionized the region. Yet, on closer inspection, we would find a total failure in the fields of e-commerce, e-learning, e-medicine and e-government, which means that technology is yet to make a real change in the Arab economic and political fabric, and that the internet is still a mere form of entertainment.

The information technology and communication route in the Arab world is still a long one, yet some have already realized its importance and potential.