Information and communication technologies on the rise in the Gulf States

Published online 4 May 2011

Mohammed Yahia

The information and communication technologies (ICT) sectors in most Gulf States have shown remarkable growth since last year, according to The Global Information Technology Report 2010–2011. Most other Arab states, however, have fallen in the world rankings of ICT-ready countries.

The report, published 12 April, 2011 by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, ranks 138 countries on their networked readiness, a measure of the extent to which countries are able to benefit from ICT advances to enhance their competitiveness as nations and improve their citizens' livelihoods.

The rankings are based on scoring countries on the readiness of individuals, businesses and governments, together with information about infrastructure, the current usage of ICT, and the financial, regulatory and policy environments in each country.

The United Arab Emirates leads the Arab states, being ranked 24th in the world for networked readiness. The government's focus on promoting ICT, and the willingness of people to adopt the new technologies, has enabled the country to achieve this status.

Similar efforts by the government of the small state of Qatar have propelled the country up the ranking by five places, into 25th position, since last year's report.

Saudi Arabia has also climbed five places to reach 33rd place. The report highlights the kingdom's ambitious e-government programme, called YESSER, for its attempts to develop Saudi ICT expertise and lay the groundwork for a knowledge-based society.

Other Arab states making the top 50 are Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Tunisia, with Oman in particular jumping nine places since the last report. Although the Gulf States have shown overall progress in their networked readiness, Kuwait lags behind the others, in 75th place.

Falling ranks

According to the report, the Middle East features prominently in the rankings, which "reflects the especially dynamic ICT uptake in most parts of the region". The increase in usage has been spurred by "the sector's increasing prioritization in national agendas" and is a "crucial instrument for economic diversification, enhanced efficiency, and modernization".

Most Arab states in other regions, however, have dropped in the rankings since last year. Tunisia, ranked 35th, is the only Arab state in Africa in the top 50. Good education standards and low Internet and telephone costs have led to widespread adoption of ICT by Tunisians over the past few years.

Libya has plummeted 23 places to 126th position. Syria has dropped 19 places to 124th and Mauritania was the worst, dropping 28 places to 130th. The three countries now have the lowest scores of all of the ranked Arab states worldwide. Egypt and Algeria have also fallen in the rankings, by four places each, even though their overall scores have improved since the last report.

ICT have played a major role in the Middle East recently, with the Internet being central in driving the political upheavals and revolutions the region has seen since the beginning of this year. Social networks have been essential in this process, allowing people to connect and mobilize.

The report also credits the increased availability of mobile Internet with increasing the potential for ICT to play a role in elevating poverty in the world's poorest areas.

"While changing the way individuals live, interact, and work, ICT has also proven to be a key precondition for enhanced competitiveness and economic and societal modernization, as well as an important instrument for bridging economic and social divides and reducing poverty," writes the World Economic Forum's Robert Greenhill in the report.