MENA's huge internet promise.

Author:Smith, Pamela Ann
Position:Business/ICT - Middle East and North Africa

THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA ISN'T JUST a by-word in the Arab world for revolution and activism, especially among the younger generation, it's also becoming a source of new entrepreneurial wealth and job creation. Inventions from Morocco to Lebanon, Dubai to Tunisia, have caught the attention of international investors, including a host of multinationals and "angels" from California's Silicon Valley.wwJordan is leading the way, with pioneering government policies that have encouraged start-ups among its talented graduates, which is why it now accounts for more than three-quarters of all the Arabic content on the web.

With roughly two-thirds of the population under the age of 30, the Middle East and North Africa has some of the fastest growing internet penetration rates in the world, analysts report. In the two years to the end of last June, the number of people using social media virtually tripled from 16m to more than 45m, according to researchers at the Dubai School of Government. Yet the real potential remains untapped: only 29% of the Middle East's population used the internet last year, compared with 68% in Europe and 78% in the US. And, although Arabic-speakers constitute 5% of web users, only 2% of the web's content is in a language they can read.

While many regional users are fluent in English, the spread of Arabic-language sites on the internet is rising rapidly, producing a huge new market for both global and regional firms, as well as new start-ups. Add to that the effects of the recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as a growing audience in the Gulf, the Levant and elsewhere in the Arab world that is keen to keep abreast of the latest news and political developments, and you have the possibility of an even greater escalation in internet usage and social media, the analysts add.

One start-up that has already benefited significantly from the regional upheavals is Jordan-based Think Arabia, whose website, Kharabeesh, currently attracts some 20m views a month. With contributions from well-known political cartoonists, web animators and designers, it specialises in animated video content for the Arab world.

"Private enterprise, job creation, youth empowerment are things that I think is what the Arab Spring is all about," comments Fadi Ghandour, the founder of the $700m regional courier, Aramex, who is currently an "angel investor" for new start-ups in the Arab world. "Yes, political freedom and political expression are important but without economic vibrancy, in any country...

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