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Egypt says it has begun registration for the first Arabic language Internet domain. The move is part of efforts to let users of non-Latin script have better access to the Web.
The new domain name will be "dot.msr" (pronounced either misr or masr), Arabic for Egypt, and promises to open up the Web to millions of Arabic-only readers.
Egypt's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel announced the move at the fourth Internet Governance Forum, under way in the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
The U.N.-backed forum is building on a decision by the body responsible for domains, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, to allow Web site addresses in any language.
ICANN says about half the Internet users around the world don't use a Latin-based script as their native language, adding the change will affect billions of potential users.
The group says requests by governments for domain names should be approved and come online next year. Individual Web addresses would then follow.
U.N. Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang highlighted the reason for this year's conference, "Creating Opportunities for All," at Sunday's opening session.
"It will allow us to reexamine and reflect upon the main theme of the IGF: access, diversity, openness, security and critical Internet resources," Sha said.
Media rights groups welcome the end of Latin-alphabet Web domination.
But Soazig Dollet of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says it is laughable that Egypt should be in the front of the movement.
"The fact that Egypt is launching this Arabic domain Monday is ironic, really, regarding the situation of freedom on the Internet today in this country. Egypt is one of the enemies of the Internet. And Internet governance requires regulations," Dollet said.
Reporters Without Borders is one of several media and human rights groups that have expressed concern about Egyptian opposition figures who have been detained for their Internet writings.
Dollet adds that while there are other Arabic-speaking countries that do not control the Internet as much as Egypt, it is not clear how long that relative freedom will last.