Read ICANN Blogs to stay informed of the latest policymaking activities, regional events, and more.

The Digital Economy: The New Oil of the Middle East

16 October 2017
By Baher EsmatBaher Esmat


In 2016, following community recommendations, ICANN commissioned the Domain Name System (DNS) market study in the Middle East region. The study found that domain names do not exist in a vacuum – rather they are part of an Internet ecosystem and cannot thrive without basic connectivity and the presence of locally provided, value-added services. A key conclusion was that expanding local language content would benefit not only users who prefer to use their local languages online, but more importantly, the majority of the population not yet connected to the Internet.

When it comes to Internet policy development, part of the ICANN mission is to seek the public's input and to ensure the participation of "entities most affected by ICANN." ICANN's core values state that the public should reflect "the functional, geographic, and cultural diversity of the Internet." What's standing in the way? Many ICANN stakeholders aren't aware of how ICANN's technical and policymaking roles affect them. And diversity is a challenge when many people whose voices need to be considered aren't even online.

Building on this conclusion, ICANN commissioned a study titled "Accelerating the Digital Economy in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey," published earlier this month. It looks at the digital landscape in the region and examines some key elements that would establish an effective digital ecosystem where the Internet and technology have social and economic impact.

Internet penetration alone is a poor metric for measuring the vibrancy of a digital economy – the report also looks at the value of connectivity. It points to specific areas where more development is needed:

  • Ubiquitous, affordable connectivity
  • Relevant content
  • Healthy business environments
  • Supportive legal and regulatory frameworks
  • Expanded digital skills

ICANN regional strategic objectives include promoting and supporting the development of the domain industry in the Middle East and fostering a healthy domain name marketplace. This report highlights some key shortcomings in the domain name market in the Middle East such as complex registration policies pertaining to country code top-level domains, weak competition in registrar markets, and a lack of sufficient local content to make the use of Internationalized Domain Names prevalent and meaningful.

ICANN's Middle East strategy focuses on expanding awareness and skills about the DNS and about related ICANN programs. As its digital economy grows, the Middle East can benefit from ICANN programs such as new generic top-level domains, which open up innovative opportunities for doing business online and creating new digital spaces. Equally relevant are Internationalized Domain Names, which when coupled with relevant local content and services, can help bring online people who prefer to access content using the Arabic script.

A complicating factor in promoting digital development is that the region is geographically, economically, linguistically, ethnically, socially, and digitally diverse. This report presents topics that need to be addressed – with advantages and opportunities for accelerating the region's digital economy.

Information is power. Today, it is access to digital information that will propel the region forward.

To learn more, read the full report [PDF, 422 KB].


Baher Esmat

Baher Esmat

VP, Stakeholder Engagement - Middle East and Managing Director Middle East and Africa
Read biographyRead biography