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Despite the existence of 22 Arabic speaking countries, Arab expats living around the globe, and a young internet savvy population in the MENA region, only 2% of content online is in Arabic. We live in an era where  smartphones and tablets are giving us access to online content virtually anywhere, yet no matter the geographic location, the info being consumed is predominately English content.

There are 350 million people in the Middle East region who speak Arabic, and we are seeing a push for Arabic content from Arabic speaking consumers.

And there are local government initiatives, such as that of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, whose office has announced a strategy to support the nurturing of the Arabic language. In Saudi Arabia there is a plan in place that addresses the pressing need for quality Arabic e-content.

The young and growing population of the MENA region, coupled with high internet penetration (estimated at 35-40%), and an increasing trend in mobile (87% mobile penetration) and smartphone  use has created a growing appetite for Arabic content online.  Regionally, the UAE has one of the highest instances of internet use with most people owning on average more than one smartphone.

The transition toward a unified “e-Arabic” has been developing in many forms, from international websites in the region emphasizing Arabic, to Google in Arabic, to an Arabic Twitter interface, to a grassroots initiatives campaigning for Arabic e-content.  Initiatives such as Taghreedat, supported by twofour54, are succeeding in creating Arabic e-content, working to improve Wikipedia in Arabic and create an Arabic Dictionary 2.0 of technical terms to serve the needs of the Arabic internet users who account for 3.3% of all users globally.

There is an undeniable movement toward the creation of Arabic content online, but the challenges lie in changing the user perception, getting people to think online in Arabic, and defining a unified e-Arabic platform of communication and information. In addition, this requires the development of Arabic terms not only to serve the average internet user but to create a regionally accepted e-Arabic for viable use in the developing, software, and translations sphere.

Arabic content is on the rise, but it remains to be seen is if the Arabizing of the internet will be skin deep or if it can take on a life of its own.

– Olivia Quinn, Senior Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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