The fourth workshop of the AIGF studied the relationship between data flow and cross-border trade.
Jane Coffin, the Director of Development Strategy at Internet Society, kicked the session off by asserting that Internet Society is an advocate for Internet everywhere. Coffin indicated that “keeping the local content local helps load it faster, gives it more credibility and creates a better local technical expertise”. According to coffin, 75% of African websites are run outside the continent.
Limiting internet access is illegal because it contradicts its fundamental openness, stated Yemeni Stockholm University professor, Walid Al-Saqaf. This explains why conservative Arab countries, especially Yemen, are at the bottom of the list of countries considered open, whereas Western ones are at the top. Al-Saqaf added that the “human development index in the Arab world is low because of a lack of access to information”. Arab governments consider internet openness negative, especially among youth, but they neglect that it boosts development. “Mark Zuckerberg, for example, could not have come from the Middle East” stated Al-Saqaf. Workshops and trainings are the most suitable way to slowly change conservative mentalities toward favoring openness.
“Internet data flow should respect certain ethics”, according to ICANN Engagement Manager in the Middle East, Fahd Batayneh. From the business perspective, studies show that the digital economy began notably contributing to the global economy after the 2008 crisis. Batayneh pointed out that the slow progress of digital economy originates from a lack of local content, which contributes to 16% of the problems in digital economy. Another factor leading to this slow progress is the predominance of a consumer identity in the MENA region, rather than a production-oriented on. “Talabat” food delivery portal, for instance, is one of the few online Middle Eastern platforms, whereas countries like Russia and China produce countless local platforms and search engines.
The UAE case was studied by Co-Founder and Principal of Edu Alliance, Dean Hoke, as the country utilizes Emiratization to build infrastructure. The UAE applied the concept of a knowledge-based economy because its authorities understood the fact that the amount of oil in the country is limited and wanted to invest in a tourism concept for Dubai. The UAE “are localizing their internet material”, stated Hoke. He ended by explaining that in the MENA region, “we have brains and entrepreneurial skills, but we have many obstacles”.
In an Era where the internet has become implemented in all sides of the economy, the Middle East and North Africa region is still neglecting the economic side of the internet for a variety of causes, including its recent excessive use to drive political change, which is a threat to many of those in power.
Done by : Maria Aoun – Kayssar Yaccoub – Ralph Gerges
Edited by : Sara Yakzan