H.H. the Emir Shares Bold Vision in Opening Connect Arab Summit

by · March 6, 2012

Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, Secretary General of ictQATAR at opening ceremony of Connect Arab Summit

His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani opened the ITU Connect Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar today, demonstrating his prioitization of ICT in Qatar and his commitment to connecting the unconnected in the Arab world.

The Emir spoke about the many challenges facing the Arab world and said we must rise to these challenges in the interests of our nations. He said that no country can do without information and data, and that technology must be used for good in projects such as fighting poverty, education and sustainability. However, it is essential we are part of the digital revolution that is coming, just as we were part of the technological revolution, he said.

With his usual visionary flair, the Emir finished saying, “To pursue the future is to create it.”

With emphasis being put on Qatar becoming a knowledge based economy and plans underway to ensure all citizens have access to broadband Internet by 2015, many distinguished speakers agreed that this region has the potential to lead the way in technology in the future. In his keynote address, ITU Secretary General, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré said that in ten years many of the world’s new ICT ventures would be based in this region and the sector would be a major player for young talent.

Dr. Touré said, “The participants at this Summit represent a whole cross-section of society. This reinforces the undisputable, undeniable and inescapable truth that, a truly global information society can only emerge out of well-thought, multi-stakeholder-based approach paving the way for facilitative cooperation, coordination and collaboration.

“This is exactly what we are witnessing today and another reason why this region is so special. And yes, this in part, explains why the ICT figures are healthy and are sky-rocketing in some countries like here in Qatar, our host. And yet there is still much to do in some other countries. There are still many millions of people in the region without a mobile phone subscription or an Internet connection, and in some countries the numbers still fall well below worldwide averages. We need to find ways to get these unconnected people connected, because in the 21st century connectivity has become a vital indicator – and driver – of social and economic growth.”

The Summit was also an opportunity to release the latest ICT adoption figures, which show that uptake continues to accelerate across the Arab region. Data from ITU’s ICT Adoption and Prospects in the Arab Region 2012 report reveal that, over the past five years, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in the region has almost tripled, from 126 million in 2006, to nearly 350 million by end 2011. At the beginning of this year, regional mobile cellular penetration reached 97 percent – ten percent higher than global penetration.

However, the report warns that such figures can obscure wide disparities between the region’s ‘hyper-connected’ economies and its less connected nations. For example, for every 100 people in Saudi Arabia, there are around 188 mobile phone subscriptions; in Djibouti, there are fewer than 20.

More than 80 per cent of the population in Qatar uses the Internet, but the figure is below five per cent in Mauritania, Iraq and Somalia. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with their higher incomes, have more than twice as many Internet users per 100 inhabitants as non-GCC countries.

Encouragingly, the report highlights significant growth in the volume of Arabic language digital content in the form of online portals and applications, and notes that regulators are making good progress in establishing Arabic domain names.

Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, Secretary General of ictQATAR, added to this sentiment and emphasised that Arabic content generation is of primary importance to the region, particularly when it comes to generating the 70 million jobs that need to be created in the next two decades.

“A digitally literate Arab population will drive economic growth, generate new jobs, and be the essential component for us being fully engaged in the knowledge economy,” said Dr. Hessa.

She also noted there were two times as many people without Internet access as there were with Internet access in the Arab world. This is an issue that is the central purpose of the Summit being held at the Sheraton Hotel until tomorrow.

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