To better understand the critical changes that the internet is spawning and their impact on society, the economy and governance models at a regional level, the Governance and Innovation Program at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government’s (MBRSG) in cooperation with Bayt.com, has launched the second edition of a regional white paper series on the latest internet and mobile usage trends in the Arab region.
The white paper titled ‘The Arab World Online 2014: Trends in Internet and Mobile Usage in the Arab Region’ was launched at a joint seminar hosted at the MBRSG headquarters that was attended by a number of government practitioners and technology experts, led by an opening speech by Dr. Ali Al-Marri, Executive President of Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government. The launch was followed by a panel discussion led by His Excellency Ahmad bin Humaidan, Director General, Dubai Smart Government and Rabea Ataya, CEO, Bayt.com. The panel moderated by Fadi Salem, Director of MBRSG’s Governance and Innovation Program discussed the implications of the findings on ‘digital trends in the Smart Government era’.
Based on a survey of nearly 3,000 people from 22 countries across the region, the white paper examines current digital trends in the Arab world. The paper focuses on online behaviors, e-government attitudes, online news and service consumption, e-learning as well as the use of mobile and social media in the region.
Speaking about evolving trends in internet usage, Fadi Salem, Director of the Governance and Innovation Program, MBRSG, and co-author of the report, said: "With 135 million internet users in the Arab region today – of which 71 million actively use social media platforms, we are witnessing continued economic and social transformations. While, the Arab World is finally matching the global internet penetration average in 2014, the digital divide is now taking new forms, namely the low broadband penetration, limited data availability and scarce online Arabic knowledge and content. Increased availability of public data and online Arabic content coupled with better broadband connectivity promise to drive economic growth, enhance job opportunities, increase educational prospects, increase regional trade integrations and enable better ‘smart’ cities infrastructure.”
“In fact, one of the key findings of the research is that ‘accessibility and connectivity’, ‘cost’ and ‘lack of content in my language’ were the top three challenges facing internet users in the Arab region. Governments and business leaders need to adapt their policies to harness this potential, in view of the ever-changing digital trends, especially among Arab youth.” Salem concluded.
Despite these challenges, a staggering 94 percent of respondents agreed that the internet has opened doors to new learning resources, and 79 percent said it had increased their involvement with their communities. Nearly 61 percent said they could not live without the internet, with 63 percent of respondents using the internet as a source for research at least once a day.
Rabea Ataya, CEO, Bayt.com, said: “The findings of the survey reiterate the internet’s role as an indispensable part of our lives, with 53 percent spending between 3 and 7 hours daily online, and 25 percent spending over 8 hours online a day. This should serve as a clue for entities across the region, from governments to businesses, to adopt an online presence as an essential part of their development strategies.”
Ataya added: "When we started Bayt.com in 2000, internet usage in the Arab world was still in its infancy, but even then we realized that it could have an amazing impact on people's lives. This is one reason why we used the platform as our main medium to empower millions of people in the region to lead better lives by providing them with the online tools, technology, and information to lead lifestyles of their choice."
In terms of mobile usage, the findings of the paper indicates that mobile penetration rates in the region reached 110 percent, with 42 percent of respondents accessing the internet using their smart phones, of which 73 percent use 10 apps or more regularly.