The Daily Star - Lebanon

  • Subject : UN announces launching of Arab research network project
  • Date : 28-Mar-2010
  • Text :

    ‘We want to move from accessing knowledge to creating it’

    By Dana Halawi
    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    BEIRUT: Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development, announced on Thursday the launching of the Arab research network project which will take place in Brussels at the end of March 2010.

    “In each Arab University there is a research center but these centers do not exchange information and do not take part in common projects, but this new network will do the job,” he said.

    Abu-Ghazaleh said that the need for such a network stems from the fact that the Arab world has to be a partner in creating knowledge. “We want to move from accessing knowledge to creating it because knowledge is the adequate tool for fortune,” he said.

    His remarks came during the ArabNet 2010 forum organized by the International Business Alliance Group (IBAG) in collaboration with the central bank of Lebanon, the Arab ICT organization Ijam3 and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) under the patronage of Prime Minister Saad Hariri represented by Minister of information Tarek Mitri.

    The forum, which was held at Habtoor Hotel in Sin al-Fil, is aimed at discussing the importance of information technology (IT) in the Arab world, and its potential for growth in this region specifically.

    In his speech, Abu-Ghazaleh recalled a conversation he started with Microsoft company cofounder Bill gates years ago asking him about his expectations in the field of IT for the new millennium. “He said that the future is artificial intelligence, and from artificial intelligence to the wisdom age by the end of the millennium,” Ghazaleh said.

    He quoted Gates saying that this is due to the fact “that everything that has been achieved now was the plumbing, the infrastructure that will allow us to reach the wisdom society.”

    “Now we are using wisdom to reach knowledge but we will reach a stage where we will use the knowledge in a wise way in the interest of the human being,” explained Ghazaleh.

    Ghazaleh gave very optimistic statistics about the IT sector in the region, noting that the internet use grew by 1,200 percent in the Arad world from 2000 to 2008, compared to only 300 percent growth in usage worldwide.

    However, he warned against the fragmentation of the internet and said that people managing the world wide web should really work on the level of the languages by turning it into a multilingual internet.

    He cited as an example the problem that took place recently between Google and China.

    China recently moved to further limit free speech on the web, and Google’s own websites and the email accounts of human rights activists have come under cyber attack. As a result, Google threatened to leave the Chinese market completely this year after cyber attacks were traced back to China.

    Google announced last Monday that it had stopped censoring search results for news, images and other information.
    As a result, Google moved its offices to Hong Kong.

    Representatives of Google Inc. at the exhibition, which was opened to the audience right after the opening ceremony of the forum, denied commenting on the problem of their company with China. However, Google’s head of engineering in the MENA region, Ahmad Hamzawi, said that the firm in general is always looking to expand in different regions of the world. “There are many different factors that a multinational company would look for in terms of determining in what locations to open,” he said.

    “The bandwidth issue is a great concern as well to any company that plans to open in the country and so we would want to look at this and understand the issue better,” he added.

    This was echoed by technical specialist Amer Tabsh, who told The Daily Star during the exhibition that a company like Google uses on its own a bandwidth equal to the total bandwidth available in Lebanon.

    However, Hamzawi said that Google is very much interested in a country such as Lebanon, whose people have a great entrepreneurship spirit. “We are here to fact find and to understand better the actual country, the people that are here, and the infrastructure that they have.”

    Ghazaleh said that the right to information will be included in the human rights list soon. “I have discussed this project with the UN secretary general and we are now drafting it and we will be submitting it to the UN before it becomes one of the human rights.”

    The right to information was also discussed by Ijma3 secretary general Nizar Zakka, who said that the right to knowledge should be given to all the young generation. “This is not something that is given by the government but the young people should ask for strong internet the way they ask for strong electricity or strong water network,” he said.

    Zakka urged security authorities not to stop the creativity and the internet by exerting harsh control, but to be open in a right and fair way to these issues.

    He added that the market was previously small and the Arab individual was obliged to go abroad in order to be creative and productive but now thanks to the internet this person can also be productive the Middle East.
    For his part, Mitri underlined the importance of establishing a proper infrastructure for the IT sector, including training centers for the youths.

    He added that Premier Hariri is planning to launch IT projects that require a partnership between the private and the public sectors.

    “The government’s priorities include the increase of internet penetration, giving licenses to investments in fiber optics in addition to the improvement in internet services and the decrease in their costs,” he added.