Beirut, 2 February 2003 (United Nations Information Service)--Arab
Ministers and decision-makers attending the Western Asia
Ministerial Conference for the World Summit on the Information
Society, to be hosted by the Lebanese Government at the United
Nations House in Beirut on 4-6 February 2003 and organized by
ESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western
Asia), in cooperation with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational
Scientific Cultural Organization) regional office in Cairo and ITU
(International Telecommunication Union), are intended to launch a
regional vision on the Information Society .
Arab countries are required to take some far-reaching commitments
and policy measures to transform the existing society into an
Information Society. The process of transformation should be
sustainable and equitable and should aim at achieving the United
Nations Millennium Development Goals through reducing poverty and
unemployment; raise levels of education; improve health services;
enhance empowerment and minimize loss of environmental resources.
Therefore, a regional vision on the Information Society should aim
at creating a turning point where developing countries could have
the opportunity to harness Information Communication Technology (ICT)
for the shaping of the future without the risk of loosing the
cultural identity. Developing countries should transform the
threats and challenges of ICT and globalization into opportunities
in the Information Society.
Consequently, formulating clear national and regional policies;
removing social and cultural barriers that impede transformation
into the new Information Society; and legal, regulatory and policy
reforms will help establishing the sought regional vision.
ICT will advance development if related efforts and programs are
integrated in a national development strategy. Governments need to
enunciate their own national vision, galvanize the necessary
political will, at the highest level, devise a national strategic
framework, establish national priorities, and create an
environment conducive to the rapid diffusion, development and use
of information technology.
Countries of the Arab region have diversified social and economic
characteristics ranging from countries belonging to the low-income
category to countries belonging to the high-income category.
Illiteracy rates and poverty levels are high. Women participation
and lack of job opportunities in the regional labour market are
further sticky issues. Continuous political instability,
considered as a main cause of slow development among others, has
been blamed for the present grave situation.
The existence of a supportive and predictable legal framework is
an important prerequisite for enhancing trust in ICT and
e-business, and thus promoting its development and dissemination.
Although there is a general consensus that the current legal
infrastructure is generally applicable to electronic transactions,
most national laws were developed in the absence of electronic
systems. Review should be carried out of relevant legislation,
where appropriate, with the aim of identifying and removing
factors that prevent enterprises from using ICT, particularly in
Therefore, the Western Asia Ministerial Conference will be an
important opportunity to Arab states to start bridging the
knowledge gap they are facing, and which will continue to grow
unless effective action is taken to bridge the digital divide.
Most of the Arab countries have not yet formulated national
policies to facilitate the move towards the information society,
nor did they plan for concrete steps to enhance national capacity
in ICT, including research and technological development.
Furthermore, initiatives to disseminate ICT applications in
priority areas and provide access to information and knowledge for
all remain at a very primitive stage.