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Arabic web addresses a reality tomorrow

Local ICANN boss says move will fix only small part of wider problem of internet access in region

Arabic web addresses a reality tomorrow
The Middle East represents close to 3% of the world's online population.

Regional manager for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Baher Esmat believes that the start of using website addresses entirely in Arabic won't be the only factor responsible for bringing more people in the Arab world online.

According to the latest figures by Internet World Stats, there are nearly 48 million internet users in the Middle East, representing slightly fewer than 3% of the world's online population. But ICANN's Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) program is expected to increase those numbers as it allows the use of characters from other languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Japanese for the complete internet address, instead of just parts of addresses as it is presently.

ICANN will end the exclusive use of Latin characters for addresses tomorrow - October 30th - and effectively liberate the internet. It will come just a day after the 40th anniversary of the internet's creation in a computer experiment by researchers at the University of California.

"Think about the millions of people in the Arab world who are yet to come online," Esmat mused, but added that IDNs won't be a solution all the internet access problems in the region. "IDNs only deal with a small part of the problem; that is making Internet addresses available in different languages. Therefore, as access becomes more affordable in the Arab world, and with more Arabic content made available online, IDNs will be complementary to such developments to help the majority of the Arab population have easier means to use the Internet."

But countries in the region are approaching the move in different ways, with Esmat revealing that he's personally seen the most interest come from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"In countries where people use the Internet mostly in Arabic, and the government is a strong advocate for the language, there would be a pressing need to have IDNs - example, Saudi Arabia. Countries such as the UAE where the government is vigorously promoting its country code, they would be keen to get it as soon as possible. In countries like Egypt where there's fast growth in Internet use among a large population of which the majority are yet to come online, IDNs could be something to consider for the future," he stated.

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