More and more Arabs are getting wired to the Internet.
A sharp decline in Internet Service Provider costs, coupled with increased human and technical ability to access and use the Internet, are the most cited reasons for the recent increase in Internet usage in the Arab world. While education and research remain the two most popular reasons for Arab usage of the Net, e-commerce is rapidly growing in the Arab world.
Although inhabitants of Arab nations are increasingly getting wired to the Internet, estimates indicate that there were 2.5 million Arab (0.9% of the total Arab population) Internet users at the end of 1999 - a relatively small number, Jordan Times reported. Henry Azzam, Chief Economist of the Middle East Capital Group, indicates that the Internet is still very much in its infancy in the Arab world, with Arab users constituting less than 1% of worldwide users. Comparatively, U.S. Internet surfers represented 27% of worldwide surfers, with Germans constituting 15%.
According to Dabbagh Information Technology (DIT), the total number of Internet users at the end of April 1999 by nation was as follows: Yemen 6,300; Tunisia 15,000; Qatar 27,500; Bahrain 32,500; Morocco 32,500; Oman 40,000; Jordan 50,300; Kuwait 62,800; Saudi Arabia 112,500; Lebanon 132,000; UAE 204,300; Egypt 207,200. In terms of number of hosts per country domain, Egypt led the Arab world with 24,342, followed by the UAE at 19,950, and Lebanon at 4,779.
Relative to other parts of the world, the Internet was commercially available significantly later in Arab countries. In Egypt, the Internet became commercial in 1998. In early 1999, it became locally available to the Syrian public, many of whom previously subscribed to Lebanese Internet Service Providers. Syria now boasts 75 local ISPs. In Lebanon, the Internet became available in 1996. Since 1995, the West Bank and Gaza made it possible for several thousand Internet users to access the net through the local PALNET server.
With the expansion of regional Internet access, e-commerce is expected to explode. Intel estimated regional e-commerce to grow from the current $400 million, to over $2 billion by 2002. Last year's worldwide total reached $150 billion. Experts indicate that the biggest obstacles to e-commerce in the region have been user skepticism in security and privacy issues, weak telecommunications and Internet services, and the high costs involved in managing websites.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)