Egypt has begun making its national archives digitally available on the Internet in Arabic, having last month registered the world's first domain name in Arabic script.

The initiative to boost use of Arabic on the Web was launched on Monday following the domain name registration, which opened the Internet to millions of Arabic speakers put off by a language barrier. Analysts say Arabic is just 1 per cent of Web content. Egypt, the first of nine Arab countries to have registered so far, has adopted the domain name .misr – the Arabic word for Egypt and which will be spelt in Arabic script. Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel said both initiatives are part of the country's push to boost Arabic e-content and broaden access to Arabic speakers. “In the future this (digital processing of Egypt's National Archives) will be very useful when we have the Arabic domain really operational,” Communications and Information Technology Minister Tarek Kamel told Reuters. “We are now preparing the content in Arabic that really reflects the long history of Egypt in digital form,” he added.

Internet regulator ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, says the new Arabic domains are expected to start working during 2010. Technology services firm IBM and Egypt's government led the project for digitally documenting the National Archives to set up a database for the country's cultural heritage. “Arabic content on the Web will be increased by 25 million records in the National Archive's database,” IBM Project Manager Amr Ahmed Ali told Reuters, adding that the National Archives' website had a sample of 1 million documents on the Web so far. ICANN, which oversees Web addresses and records the names of their sponsors, voted to allow non-Latin script to be used in Web addresses in mid-November. “Domain names will give millions of users access to Web addresses in their own language,” said ICANN's Baher Esmat. “If you go out in rural areas and places outside big cities the majority are much more comfortable using all electronic services in Arabic,” he said, adding mobile use would not have risen so fast in Egypt, where about 50 million of its 77 million people are users, without Arabic-language ability on phones. Analysts said launching Arabic domain names was only a first step and Arab states should do more to help build up content. “There are about 300 million Arabs and Arab content on the Web is only 1 percent of the global content … this is abysmal,” American University in Cairo assistant professor Rasha Abdulla said.

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