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EGYPT: Arabic Web addresses expected to draw millions of new users to Internet

June 1, 2010 |  7:27 am


Arabic, spoken by about 280-million people worldwide, will finally appear in domain names and Web addresses, a development that "represents a milestone in Internet history," said Tarek Kamel, Egypt's minister of communications.

Internet users so far only have been able to use Latin suffixes in their Web addresses, a format that has been an obstacle worldwide for millions of people unfamiliar with Latin letters. Introducing Arabic to domain languages in coming weeks is expected to spur Internet use among those in Egypt and the Middle East, who will have a variety of addresses in Arabic characters from which to choose.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will be the first to take advantage of the International Domain Names after the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers approved their proposals for IDN country-code top level domains (IDN ccTLD) late in 2009.

After six months of research and condensed IT work, users in all three countries will be allowed to apply for websites using Arabic suffixes, as the Egyptian Ministry of Communication already granted three companies (TE Data, Vodafone Data and Link Registrar) licenses to use the new domains in a trial period. The domain name for Egypt will be ".masr," which means Egypt in Arabic and will be written in Arabic.

"This development will be very important for users and companies who've always struggled to find the right addresses representing themselves or their firms in their own language," said Rod Beckstrom, the head of ICANN, during a visit to Cairo.

Beckstrom reckons that the Arab population can take pride from being able to use their own language in cyberspace. "Internet use has been rapidly expanding in the Arab world, and now it's very convenient that users will be able to use their language," he said.

Developing international domain names had been in the works for more than 0 years, after the idea was pitched by an IT expert from Zurich and later approved by ICANN. Despite the advantage of bringing Arabic domains to Egypt, there have been some concerns over the increasing censorship that will accompany the applications' process by users, as the Egyptian government will be receiving requests for the new domain names.

ICANN has so far received requests for new country codes from 21 other countries representing 11 languages, including China and Thailand. Thirteen of those were given the go-ahead.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Reuters