Egypt’s Internet presence increasing

Egypt’s Internet presence increasing

CAIRO: Less than ten years ago, the Egyptian government established the ministry of technology and has been showing its teeth in new and innovative projects that are pushing the country into the Internet age. Although it has been somewhat of a teetering ride, as of August 2007, six million Egyptians were regular Internet users. The number seems small, that is only 8.3 percent of the population, but optimistically speaking, that is a major increase from the 450,000 users only 7 years ago.

Government ministries are currently in the process of conducting major makeovers to their websites in an effort to reel in more clients and make access easier, despite the pessimism across the web.

Officials admit that e-commerce and Internet activity is low for a nation of Egypt’s size. According to the ministry of communication and technology, of that 8.3 percent, 53 percent of the users reside in the capital Cairo, and another 32 percent live in the northern Delta region, which has left much of Upper Egypt disconnected.

The government hopes to address these areas in their development program that plans on creating sites that allow for inexperienced users to find information with ease.

“In government entities, this web development is part of the e-government program,” said Sameh Bedair, head of the programs and policies sector of the Ministry of State for Administrative Development. “Our mandate is to encourage all the government entities to do the services for the citizens in a multi-channel approach.”

The core of this development, Bedair argues, “is the website and Internet and we started doing this since the end of 2003 and it that time we have improved and encouraged other government bodies to publish websites,” which he believes will increase penetration nationwide.

Egyptian and foreign workers in the country have commended the government’s efforts to reform their sites, saying this will help them in their daily drudgery. Finding information without the bundle of complicated links is vital to easing their work.

Farid Tadros, who works at an international company in Cairo who asked that the company not be stated, said he believes the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) has one of the better and most accessible websites in the country, exemplifying the recent developments in Web technology from the government.

“It’s pretty good, especially considering what the goal of the organization is,” he began, “you should probably keep in mind the goal of the organization is before critiquing the Web site.”

GAFI is the hub that brings industry and business together, Tadros continues. “The goal [of GAFI] is essentially to promote industry, commerce, business in Egypt, so with that mandate in mind, GAFI’s Web site does show very well. It’s very crisp and its obviously been redone very recently.”

While Tadros searches in English, Bedair says that Arabic is the language that all government sites must ensure to be searchable, for Egypt is a country with 80 million Arabic speakers.

“Most of the services, actually, must be complete in Arabic,” said Bedair. He did say that it is important for their foreign visitors and employees to be able to obtain the information they need in English because not everyone is able to read Arabic.

Bedair added that the push for Web progress is part of the overall aim to enhance the country’s comprehensive digital development, which began with the establishment in 1999 of the ministry of communications and technology.

“This [website development] is part of the e-government program and part of the Egyptian Information Society Initiative, which started in 1999. This is an initiative the Egyptian government adopted,” he added.

The future of e-services can continue to improve, Tadros argued. He said that in many of the Web site he uses, the main thing he has noticed “is [they aim to] reduce the time or procedures required to register a business and in doing so tying it into automation and Web sites would be their next step and I’m pretty sure they are in the process of looking into that.”

Bedair agrees, arguing that despite the recent successes achieved by the new government portal,, there is still much that can be done to continue to improve. He hopes that in the near future, the country will no longer be seen as backward in terms of Internet resources at its disposal.

Website development undoubtedly played an important role for one of the world’s fastest growing economies. But there is still work to improve on its 114th ranking globally in overall terms of doing business.

According to the annual report, “Doing Business,” the Egyptian government improved on making it easier for businesses to start up through new measures. These included the reduction of the initial capital requirements by more than 80 percent and automating tax registration.

The main way to disseminate this information was, not surprisingly, via the Internet.

Egyptians are finding it easier and more useful to get information for their daily activities from the Internet. Although this has been the case in many nations globally, Egypt has finally entered this global age, where the Internet can be the first source for information, and the government is doing its part to create an online function for all its citizens.