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  • Arab countries 'need a long-term digital strategy'


[ALGIERS] Around 80 per cent of the Arab countries have adopted so called 'e-strategies' to facilitate their transition towards digital technology, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

But there is still a lack of real strategic approach, according to the report. "Governments, societies and economies would benefit from an overarching strategic direction and from the formulation of a long-term vision," it says.

The report outlines several success stories, including Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

"Egypt has followed a very comprehensive and future-oriented ICT [information and communications technology] approach, enabling development of a globally competitive ICT industry that would benefit society and stimulate national development towards an information society," it says.

The report also cites Jordan as a good example of how political will can develop e-government strategies even when finances to do so are scarce. The country has carried out a successful educational reform that includes 'e-learning' technology"to transform the school environment into a cradle of discovery and creativity, allowing Jordanian students to imagine the reality they can grow up into".

Oman's strategy will "enable citizens to engage in e-commerce transactions with government departments and business through a range of electronic channels", says the report. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia "seeks to encourage domestic companies to build local ICT industries".

In contrast, the report identifies Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen as still lacking clear e-strategies.

"Arab countries' progression in digital technologies is widely varied" Zeena Al Borgan, a research analyst at the Arab Advisors Group, based in Amman, told SciDev.Net.

An earlier report published by the group in November 2009, which used a UN progression scale of five stages of the e-government development — emerging, enhanced, interactive, transactional and connected — found that none of the 12 Arab countries studied had reached the top stage.

"The ITU report is far too optimistic in describing the actual situation and predicting the future of ICT adoption in the Arab world because, instead of conducting field investigations, it relies on official statistics that often mask the reality," Mohamed Lagab, professor of political science at the University of Algiers, told SciDev.Net.

There are great cultural barriers, and shortages of manpower and infrastructure necessary for a digital society, in most Arab countries, he said.

The ITU report, 'National e-Strategies Development: Global Status and Perspectives 2010', was released at the recent World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland.

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