Multiple Mirrors of the Arab Digital Gap

By Allagui, Ilhem | Global Media Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Multiple Mirrors of the Arab Digital Gap


Allagui, Ilhem, Global Media Journal


Abstract

This paper discusses the digital divide in the Arab region. It studies the digital divide on double dimensions: the access and the usage. The access gap measures the "have" and "have-not" the Internet whereas the usage gap measures the quality of audience use of the Internet. A comparison with the leading global websites sets a benchmark of usage quality.

Introduction

This paper discusses the social introduction of the internet in the Arab countries and stresses that despite the increasingly growing internet penetration rates in the Arab region, there's still a digital gap among Arab countries and between Arab countries and leading countries globally in terms of internet coverage and usage.

This presentation highlights the multidimensional aspects of the digital gap and supposes that a digital gap exists among Arab countries in terms of connectivity and in terms of audience's usage of the web. First, the paper introduces a short description of the Arab world, followed by an overview of the literature related to the digital gap and to the internet situation in the Arab countries. Then, it discusses the internet in the Arab countries from an audience perspective and a user's perspective. This leads to a thesis about a usage gap warning situation in the Arab region where the Arab usage pattern of the web is limitative and not "evolutionary".

The Arab media have been strongly criticized, especially when content is involved. For instance, the 2003 Arab Human Development Report (UNDP) has noted the weak role the media network plays in motivating societies to acquire knowledge,

"For example, it is obvious that meaningful, educative and knowledge- oriented programs are often absent from the Arab satellite channels. Rather the Arab media content is laden with sleazy, worthless and mostly sensational forms of amusement that have grave negative effects on the perception and values of Arab audiences" (Arab Media in the Information Age, 2006, p.4-5).

The World Wide Web offers as an alternative to traditional media. It combines audio, video, text and other interactive features allowing interactivity as well as production possibility on the web. Not only the users have an endless choice of websites to visit and to interact with other users, they also have the power to generate content and to transform the classic chain producer-message-consumer to a new one where the consumers are now producers. Knowing the media role that the internet embraces, one wonders if the Arabic internet has transformed this unsatisfactory quality of media and has provided the Arab audience with alternative ways to get quality media with worthy content that can grave positive effects.

1- Arab Countries in Context

Arab countries are spread throughout two continents Africa and Asia, but they have in common geographic roots as well as cultural roots. The classic Arabic is the official language. It is understood and used in writing by all Arabs. However, the spoken language is different from one country to another and from one region to another. All Arab countries have Islam as a dominant religion with some incongruity in Egypt or in the Levantine, in particular Lebanon where Christianity is the religion of almost 40% of the population.

Arab countries are known to have a common "culture". The concept of culture being so wide, it would be imprudent to agree to this statement. However, with the globalization phenomena, cultural industries in the Arab region took advantage of the free flow of information and communication, and cultural products were made available among the region; this was commercially and culturally possible because of the shared common language understood by Arabs and also because of the development of satellite television that contributed to the enlargement of the Arab cultural market. However, the Arab countries have significant differentials. The economic wealth for instance varies significantly. …

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