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Annual Middle East DNS Forum Offers Dynamic Discussion and Learning

9 June 2022
By Baher EsmatBaher Esmat

Over the course of three days from May 16-18, more than 200 people from across the region participated in the eighth Middle East Domain Name System (DNS) Forum.

As mentioned in my previous blog, the agenda this year covered various topics and aspects of the DNS, some being an ongoing priority for our engagement in the region, while others were new issues, first raised in the forum this year. The discussions were rich and brought forth some interesting perspectives. In this blog, I'm sharing key highlights and takeaways of the virtual event.

The panelists discussing the domain name industry from a regional perspective unanimously agreed that the Middle East is a region of huge potential. They each shared their views about the past two years and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their business and operations and provided insights into the future of the industry in the region. We learned from Saudi Arabia's country code top-level domain (ccTLD) operator (.SA) that during the pandemic they had revamped their registry and adopted a registry/registrar model, which, combined with the leap in online services, had resulted in unprecedented growth in domain registrations, reaching 35% over the past two years.

We also heard from two of the leading players in the industry, CentralNIC Registry and Tucows Registry. They reported that the two years of COVID-19 has actually accelerated digital transformation in the Middle East, creating new opportunities for growth in various sectors, including the domain market. They noted the potential for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and pointed out efforts by some ccTLDs in the region to focus on their local markets.

For the region to unleash its full potential more work needs to be done. This message was clearly relayed during more than one session. A presentation by colleagues from ICANN's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) on DNS security extensions (DNSSEC) deployment experiences in the region highlighted the fact that there has been heightened awareness of the importance of improving the security of the DNS infrastructure, and more requests for technical training on the topic. It also showed that while ccTLD managers and service providers in some countries have been making progress in deploying DNSSEC, the majority are still hesitant to follow suit.

The same message of "more to be done" came across in the discussion on internationalized domain names (IDNs) and Universal Acceptance (UA). Although Arabic is the dominant language in the majority of the Middle East, the uptake of Arabic script-based domain names has been slow. It was mentioned that, out of approximately eight million IDNs registered worldwide, there are less than ten thousand domains in the Arabic script. Obviously, there is more to be done to promote the use of Arabic domain names, Arabic email addresses and improve their UA online.

Decentralized domain names, also known as blockchain domains, was one of the new topics raised at the forum this year. It was suggested by community members who wanted to learn more about these names and their potential impact on the DNS. The panel had two speakers who shared interesting yet differing views on the subject. One speaker said that what we are witnessing today with the evolution of blockchain services, or Web3.0, is similar to the Web1.0 revolution of the 90's. There were many dot-com failures back then, but there have been many successes as well. Likewise, Web3.0 will have its failures and successes in the coming years. The other speaker was of the view that what happens with blockchain domains today is like buying lands on Second Life years ago, which was a complete failure. However, both speakers acknowledged that name collisions would be one of the potential threats posed by these names. The moderator referred to the ICANN OCTO paper that was issued recently on alternative name systems.

While held remotely for the second year in a row, the forum remains influential in bringing together attendees from across the region and providing an effective platform for engagement and knowledge sharing. In fact, holding the forum virtually increases the diversity of the participants, as it attracts new audiences that would not normally have traveled to attend in person.

If you missed out on any of the sessions, you can find all recordings available here.

I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of the forum this year, from the speakers and participants to all the community members whose input helped us develop a compelling agenda. For any suggestions, you can reach out to us at meac.swg@icann.org. I would invite those who attended the forum this year to take a few minutes to share their feedback by completing this survey.

Authors

Baher Esmat

Baher Esmat

VP, Stakeholder Engagement - Middle East and Managing Director Middle East and Africa
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