“The first casualty when war comes is truth.” It’s a saying you may know, attributed to US Senator Hiram Johnson in 1918, and it directly relates to the field of communications. It wasn’t long ago that you’d have to rely on radio and television or newspapers for your information, often controlled by governments or owners who wanted to put across only what they wanted you to hear.
The rise of the internet globally, allied to mobile technology, has made access to information for millions of people much easier, and they are able to disseminate their own information to family, friends and others worldwide that often have a different take on a political situation in a particular country.
As with any technology, it can be misused for propaganda purposes, but Middle Eastern economies have for the most part embraced the opportunities the internet has brought. It’s good for business and investment as well as keeping citizens informed about events.
The Middle East has for many years lagged behind the industrialized nations of the West in terms of developing its telecommunications infrastructure. In many cases, countries’ unwillingness to open up their markets meant development was difficult. Those that then opened their markets, allowing foreign entry allied to state investment, are starting to reap the rewards of inter-connectivity.
The internet doesn’t just drive relationships on a family and friends level – though that’s an important part of what it does – it’s also a major driver for business development. Putting infrastructure in place creates jobs; companies providing hardware and software also create jobs; and the ability for companies and individuals to access information via mobile technology – you’ll be familiar with smartphones and tablets – is another main driver for the economies.
Broadband mobile networks
Middle Eastern countries that have embraced mobile broadband include Israel, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and all these countries are aware of the importance of continuing to invest in and develop these networks. They, and others with a currently smaller take up of mobile broadband, such as Qatar and Lebanon, know that the global economy is vitally important to them and their businesses. They also know that by helping far-flung families to keep in touch through mobile technology, they are helping to foster stable societies. This is despite the many problems in the region still to be resolved.
In Middle Eastern countries that have suffered war and deprivation and with poor transport and other infrastructure, it can be hard to get and keep citizens connected. When you look at an entrepreneur such as Ehsan Bayat of Afghan Wireless, you get to understand that problems are not insuperable. His work in Afghanistan, the country of his birth, includes setting up Afghan Wireless, now one of the country’s leading mobile phone and internet providers. He also set up Ariana Television Network, bringing educational opportunities into a huge number of households.
The onward march
The internet has revolutionized lives and societies, not to mention business, and the strong development of telecoms and IT structure in the Middle East has helped connect it to a global audience.