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UN:  Digital Divide in Arab World 'Staggering' - 2002-06-27


When it comes to the use of computers, a United Nations study released Monday, says the divide between the Arab and advanced world is "staggering." The U.N. says improving infrastructure "is critical to closing the technology gap."

Only one percent of the 280 million people in the Arab world use the Internet. That is one of the findings of a study conducted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Arab officials acknowledge that by failing to keep up on technological advances the Arab world risks falling further and further behind the rest of the world.

The problem is more basic than a lack of computers, according to the U.N. study. It says it is difficult to learn about information and communication technologies in Arab states.

The study found there is a slow pace of reform within Arab telecom sectors, and poor access to information resources, limited personnel and difficulties with the region's economic development.

Also, using the Internet costs money, and many families throughout the region cannot afford it.

According to Dr. Saneya Saleh, a sociology professor at American University in Cairo, another factor is reluctance on the part of many parents to introduce their children to the Internet, a fear she said she shares.

"I live here. I am a mother, and I am always afraid for the youngsters in this generation," she said. "You see, many people try to imitate a lot of what they see, and that is what I am afraid of. We are always trying to imitate everything, thinking this is the good thing. We try to supervise the use of the Internet in certain places because we do not want them to open it to anything. There are certain things on the Internet we do not want young people to see. There are horrible things you can get on the Internet."

The United Nations Development Program is in the midst of talks with Arab states to create strategies for upgrading their information technology systems.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has said "the region is trying to bridge the digital divide but it will be a very gradual process."

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