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Sandstorm to make internet clearer for Arabic users

A new Arabic search engine to rival Google and Yahoo! has been announced by a Saudi-German business venture.

A new Arabic search engine to rival Google and Yahoo! has been announced by a Saudi-German business venture.

The search engine, named Sawafi, the Arabic word for sandstorm, will provide the first full Arabic internet search engine on the market, and is planned for release later this year.

Although there are Arabic search engines already available, they only offer a directory search and do not allow users to search the entire content of the internet.

Sawafi is the result of a venture between search engine company Seekport, based in Germany, and Mobile Integrated Technology Solutions (MITSCO), from Saudi Arabia. It will allow Arabic-speaking internet users to search for the estimated 100 million web pages in Arabic.

Herrmann Havermann, managing director of the newly-created Seekport Arabia, said: “The Arabic speaking population makes up 5% of the world, Arabic speakers make up 2% of internet users, but the content on the internet that is in Arabic accounts for only 0.2%.”

“Arabic search engines are very limited, and international search engines are very poor on Arabic.”

Sawafi will also allow pages from Arabic countries that are written in English, French and several other languages to be translated into Arabic, using its in-house software. It will also allow pages in Arabic to be translated into these languages.

Although Sawafi will be based on the technology used by Seekport in its European search engines, which cover the German, Spanish, French, Italian and English languages, it will have a different look to appeal to Middle East users.

“It will have a completely different user interface but it will use Seekport technology,” said Havermann.

Seekport has worked closely with Madar, a UAE-based internet researcher, which has found that 65% of Arabian internet users cannot read English, even though English language pages account for 70% of the content on the internet.

It is hoped that the introduction of a full Arabic search engine could spur users to create more web pages in the language and reflect the extent to which Arabic is used globally.

Madar estimated that the number of Arab internet users could almost triple to 43 million by 2008, from 16 million in 2004. It has also predicted that Arabic speakers will outnumber English speakers by 2010.

Seekport has been working on Sawafi for one and a half years and expects the search engine to be ready in the last quarter of this year. It also has plans for an Indian search engine, which will support all of the major languages spoken in India.

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