Digitisation of the Arab world: A community approach?

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This article is featured in Orient II/2024.

The digital sphere in the Arab world, which began to evolve at the dawn of the new millennium, was initially perceived as a catalyst for addressing the structural issues plaguing the Arab
economy. This transformation, however, proved hard to control as the Arab Spring had shown the disruptive potential of technology in generating political voice. Digital transformation as an
economic policy was therefore tightly supervised by the state class to prevent any undesired spillover. Consequently, the outcomes in both the economic and political spheres fell short of bringing about comprehensive improvements. The advent of climate change has now further intensified the economic crises in the Arab world, necessitating a search for more innovative
and potentially more radical solutions. In this context, digitisation is finding new applications within the framework of Smart City concepts. The construction of these new-age cities, extending into cyberspace, holds the potential to bring about a radical transformation in the landscape of the Arab world. However, this transformation again is unfolding without an explicit discourse on possible new political and economic orientations. It is also taking place against the backdrop of a global multipolar restructuring process. This situation presents a critical decision for the Arab world: to align itself as a European periphery or to carve out its own distinct identity and political pole, whether that be Islamic, Asian, or otherwise. This decision – we must suspect – will carry with it implications for the usage of technology in the region.

Ayad Al-Ani is a professor extraordinary at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He is also an Associated Member of the Einstein Center Digital Future in Berlin. He has served as the rector of the ESCP Europe Business School in Berlin and was an Executive Partner with Accenture.

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