IBM e-gov goes to Middle East

IBM this week opened the company's first e-government center in the Middle East.

The Bahrain-based center will support e-gov efforts of the 14 national governments in the region. Bashar Kilani, manager of IBM’s Software Group for the Middle East, said governments are pursuing both government-to-citizen and government-to-business projects.

The center will feature IBM and open-source software technology that promotes inter- and intra-agency collaboration. "The interesting part is the strong focus on Linux," Kilani said. "Linux has been very successful in this part of the world. There's a lot of interest in building technology and innovation around Linux."

The securities, scalability of the technology, and its Arabization, have contributed to this interest, Kilani added. IBM's Cairo Technology Development Center has been working to optimize Linux for Arab languages.

Sreeram Visvanathan, a partner with IBM Business Consulting Services for the public sector, Middle East, said area governments have begun to collaborate in e-gov, sharing best practices and intellectual capital. IBM’s Bahrain-based center, he added, will play a role "in shaping the government transformation initiatives that are going on in this region."

Internet use in the Middle East grew 266.5 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to The Internet World Stats Web site, www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm.

Kilani said Internet penetration varies by country. Broadband penetration in the United Arab Emirates, for example, is much higher than in some Western nations, he said.

In general, Internet use in the Middle East has faced a few hurdles, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "One of the most obvious obstacles to the universal access to the Internet in the Arab world is the fact that the Internet has been an English-dominated medium, and languages such as Arabic, which do not use the Latin alphabet, need specific software for displaying Arabic scripts," UNESCO reported.

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