At the beginning of this month we sent your questions to Isam Bayazidi of Amman, Jordan. He's a Slashdot reader, founder of the Jordan Planet blogging community, and (I know this from personal experience) knows the best places to buy discount-priced computer components in his home town. Enjoy!(1) Arab and Israeli communities
Is there any collaboration between the Arab and Israeli communities when it comes to blogging, Free/Open Source Software or general computing?
I will start with the Open Source Software: Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew languages have many similarities which make them overlap in some areas with language support. Example is general Multi-Lingual support, and the BiDi (Bi-Directional) support of applications. Such similarities made it reasonable to communicate and collaborate in certain projects. A great example is the FriBidi library which was introduced by 2 Iranian developers, and now used by many open source projects, some of which originating from Israel. As well, there are Open Source volunteers from Israel who are working in BiDi support in applications (Ex. Wine) and one can find communication between individuals working on similar projects... Another example is the Arabic Wikipedia, as Arabic language is an official language in Israel, so there are contributors who work in both Hebrew and Arabic wikipedias..
As for Blogging, I am not sure if it would be accurate to call the blog collective from countries a community, because basically they are people with totally different opinions, each expressing it in his/her own space, so it won't be fair to characterise and generalize them. Nevertheless, you would see small blogger-interactions such as comments, track backs, tagging, and pingbacks happening between bloggers from Israel and other parts of the Arab world.
Now I am not sure I would call this "community-level" or "individual-level" interaction. I know that it is happening, because it makes sense in some cases. Nevertheless, I think that with no final solution for the middle-east issue in horizon, such cooperation will stay mostly limited, and won't rise to be a community-level cooperation..
(2)Straight Outta Casablanca
by Doc Ruby
You have solid credits for several "Arab versions" of modern software. The Mideast was where many technologies, like writing, urban living, astronomy and symbolic math were invented or mastered. What new uses of the Internet and open SW do you see originating in Mideastern hands? Which brand new apps are people in your world using in a way more familiar in the Mideast, which could make the jump to global popularity the way so much Western tech already has?
In my opinion, the Arabs are in a completely different state than when those technologies were invented or mastered. At that time, It was the prime time for the Islamic culture, where other parts of the world were busy hunting witches and wizards. Today, Arab countries is in a knowledge crisis (Ref: Arab Human Development Report 2003) which appears in information reach, technology use, and thus effecting innovation. We should be more worried about meeting basic needs when it comes to knowledge and education, than to think about global reach, and having larger world influence.
Now talking about Internet and software, while there are a number of innovators from arab countries, leading in certain segments, niches. As well, you would find a general state of imitations for successful models and businesses, example: Arabic versions of many of the popular softwares and services: search engine, blog services, photo-sharing, iTunes-like music stores, arabic-centric versions of many of the Mashups, and so on. Once imitation is done, uniqueness may start to emerge, which is very likely to have global visibility and reach. I do not see that happening in the next 2-4 years, but again, who knows.
Regarding Open Source software, as long as adoption for the software is limited to individual level, and do not reach cooperate or governmental or even academia levels, I do not see that we will be seeing successful sustainable projects, as individuals and pioneers are met with great challenges and resistance from those who are supposed to support their efforts.
(3) Credible Sources for Arab Bloggers by tabdelgawad
As a founder of an Arabic (Jordanian) blogging community, what do you perceive to be the source of news most popular/trusted by Arab bloggers? Is it local, Arab (AlJazeera, etc), European (BBC, TV5, etc), or American (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, etc)? Is the Arab blogging community a large echo chamber for the latest and greatest western conspiracy theories, or is there genuine diversity of sources and opinions?
With the aggregation, tagging, and news alert systems we have today, Internet as a whole is considered the primary source. It became easier to watch and track 100s of sources from all over the world, and filter what you might be interested in. Most of the Bloggers today are Internet savvy people, monitoring the media in general.
Nevertheless, Arab news sites such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabeya, and elaph are on the top Arab news sites that people refer to, comes along with them BBC Arabic service (which many consider the most credible).
It is needless to say that bloggers have a more open eye to the media of the west than the English speaking media in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. Reason would be a combination of both 1) International visibility for those western media 2) Arab bloggers being more focused and concerned about how the west perceive them than other parts of the world.
(4) Down to earth... how does it feel?
As an Arab, a Jordanian, a regular Slashdot reader, and a computer addict my self, I feel compelled to ask this question. But first a little about why I'm asking... I started my addiction when I was in Jordan at an early age in the mid 80's, and moved to the United States in the late 90's. So I think by now I'm out of touch with how things are advancing in our part of the world. I used to be considered as a knowledgeable geek, but that was a long time ago when I had more time on my hands. :(
My questions are (really it is the same LONG question:)
Now that online communities and computer volunteering (especially OSS) is growing on the highest rate in the western part of the globe, how do you see participation and understanding of such participation in Jordan in specific, and the middle east in general?
Do you see the Arab population is going toward a more active role, or maintaining a technology consumer role as it used to be in the old days? Do you feel that you are a loner in what you do and contribute? Or do you get a whole lot of "Hey man that is soo cool, how would I start contributing like you do?"
Last but not least, from your day-in-day-out interaction with the local-online-communities, when do you see us (Arabs) technologically maturing to a level where we can be a major contributing force in the OSS global community... is it happening now?
Volunteerism within computer and online communities could be within the same levels as you would find in the west. But considering the Internet penetration, and number of people with DSL lines, you would find the number to be low. You would find many volunteer-based community sites on the Internet, ranging from general forums, community-news, Sport fan sites, tech support, mobile tips, and so on.
As for OSS volunteerism, one of the big challenges is the language barrier... it is almost a prerequisite to have good English language to be able to participate and contribute. This causes many of those who are potential volunteers to be driven away to communities that do not have this language prerequisite. Another aspect, is the university educational systems, which do not encourage, in fact some time discourage, students from being active in Open Source projects and communities. Lack of understanding and knowledge from most of the academia about what is Open Source, its benefits to their students and them, causes having generations of students who lack the understanding, or even sometime fear the participation.
A good thing is that there are some communities rising in Arab countries, with the focus of promoting Open Source and activism in the community. Example is Arabeyes project, which focuses on adding Arabic language support to Open Source programs, as well the NoISA project that came out of Jordan LUG, and many other projects that came out of LUGs (Egypt-Lug, Linuxegypt, Saudi LUG). As well, the Arabic Wikipedia is growing in size in terms of articles and community, making it one of the successful examples of collaborative projects in the Arab world.
One thing to note, is that I am no longer active, or having a leading role in either of the projects I was involved in before: Arabeyes, Jordan LUG, or Arabic Wikipedia. I still maintain good ties and relation with those communities, but I am no longer involved as I am shifting focus into different fields and communities.
(5) Exportation of Technology
A lot of people in the states are familiar with anti-export warnings on encryption technology:
Are their any technologies that the government of Jordan specifically mandates not be exported outside of its borders?
How common is it that encryption technology that the U.S. Government asks not be used overseas is actually implemented "against their will"?
I am no expert in that field. To start with, the top technology companies in Jordan are Microsoft/CISCO/HP/Oracle partners. The government itself have a partnership with Microsoft and CISCO on the high levels. Nevertheless, there are restrictions applied with exporting technology to Jordan from US companies. I am not aware of encryption-related restrictions and how they are handled. But I know that US export policy prevents having servers with large number of processors sold to companies or even universities in Jordan, powerful computers are just not present in server rooms here. The alternative had always been having multiple servers, with load balancing or clustering, to do a task that could have been done in one powerful machine.
I am not aware of any Jordanian export restrictions related to technology. Infact, some of my friends found that question funny when they read it in slashdot.. Jordan limiting export to US :) .. There are hardly any software or technology-related house here that could be working on sensitive projects, and even if they do, US funding and partnership will be a part of that project.
(6) Dilbert by Lev13than
I'm going to guess that office and IT environments around the globe probably share more in common than their superficial differences (language, decor, degree of automation etc...) suggest. Indeed, petty politics and general insanity are going to raise their heads regardless of your office's time zone. As such, how well does Dilbert [ dilbert.com], the quintessential North American corporate satire, translate into Arabic? Do you see your office in these cartoons? If not, is there an Arabic version that does a better job?
Although I regularly follow Dilbert, because I didn't have a long office-work experience (I worked as on-my-own consultant for most of the time) I do not really relate to most of Dilbert management/office-related cartoons, nevertheless, most of my friends who are in the IT field, or large telecom companies tell me that they really relate to it, and swear by it.
Unfortunately, comics or cartoons are not very popular in this part of the world. There are no office/IT related cartoons known in the Arab world, as well, Dilbert is not even translated to Arabic. You won't find a half or full page of comic strips in Arab newspapers, but rather the political one-big cartoon.
(7) Stereotypes and those who would further them... by d3ac0n
Ok, Two-parter here...
1)As an Arab in today's world, how do you deal with those in the Western world who further the stereotype of "Arabs As Radicals"?
What saddens me the most, is that the Media plays a great part in forming this image, and the general public do not take an extra step to verify or validate such image. The stereotype of Arabs go beyond the image of being Radicals, it starts by the believe that we are "totally" different, out-of-this world. Once people buy this, then any other mis-information will just easily get in the minds of ordinary people.
Another problem is the way the media highlight and focus on nationality, for example, every time Abu Musaab is mentioned, he is mentioned as "The Jordanian" or "Jordan-born" Abu Musaab, while in positive contexts, it is rare to have nationality mentioned, you won't hear in any news "The Jordanian Dr. Rima Khalaf Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director of UNDP" or "Jordan-born Usama Fayyad, the chief data officer and senior vice president of Research & Strategic Data Solutions in Yahoo". Such success models from Jordan (and I can go on and on for other Arab countries) are rarely associated with the country of origin when referred to in the media, making it easy for anyone to have a visual image of a radical when I first tell them that I am Jordanian, as they would think Abu Mussab, rather than Dr. Usama Fayyad.
2) In addition how do you, as a forward-thinking Arab, address the issue of those in the Middle Eastern world that would seek to further the radical elements of Islam for thier own purposes, regardless of the consequences or the stereotypes this may create in the West? In other words, how does one function as a concientious objector in Middle Eastern Society?
I had something like 3 drafts to answer this question, and I came to the conclusion that I am no expert in that field to be able to give a good answer for that question... short answer: politicians and those seeking power would use anything, including religion, to empower themselves, and weaken their opponents.. We've seen this all over the world through out the history, not only in Islamic countries..
(8) Which is more important to develop...
A communication infrastructure, or a transportation infrastructure? I ask this because what my American viewpoint sees of the middle east is the seeming lack of mass-transportation systems like we have in American (highways, railroads, and the like.) The Middle East also seems to lack a stable communication infrastructure, especially to rural areas. Which do you think is more important, communications or transportation?
Transportation comes first. Being able to go to school or work, have goods and food reach you is part of life basics.. once that is fulfilled, definitely communication comes.. with proper communication it doesn't matter where you are working from.. Talking about Jordan, we currently have a good road infrastructure, and an acceptable transportation system, so now there is great focus on communication. There are many projects in that field, such as inter-university fiber connection, the broadband-to-schools, and PC-to-every-home projects.
(9) Cartoons and website defacement
So, what's your opinion on the arabic kids who are defacing websites in protest to the Mohammed cartoons?
Crackers who found an easy target .. Just like many others who point their guns on the wrong people. Myself, as much as I find the cartoons in question offensive, I think that the reaction caused even more damage to Muslims image than what some silly cartoons may do..
(10) Arabic hacker food by DarkClown
Pizza and some caffeinated beverage with an occasional foray into sushi are typical geek food in the west - what is finding its way down the typical arabic chair dwellers gullet?
Arabic and Turkish Coffee comes as the top source of caffeine from most geeks, as for food, a mixture of Falafel and Shawarma would be the applicable food for Jordanians. I am not sure about other parts of the Arab world.
(11) Impact on lifestyles
I know that here, many people are spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer, to the point where it has negatively impacted their time spent with people in social settings (iow - people are becoming less social). Blogging is yet another time sink, on top of the web, email, etc.
Do you foresee the same negative long-term effects in the middle east as we've experienced?
Well, people here are extra-social, so maybe being less social will introduce some balance :) kidding.. well I am sure that there will be always those who spend the days and nights of their weekends playing World of Warcraft (I know one :) ), spend their evenings writing or playing with PEAR components, or read and digg blog posts .. but I do not see a "long-term" effect happening because of this as technology spread is limited, at least for the foreseeable future. From what I see, from people I know and myself, spending time in front of a computer took time from TV or book reading rather than socializing..
(12) Arabic-translated open source software
I know that a number of people work on doing translation work for various languages -- as a whole, what is the state of Arabic-translated open source software? Is it possible for someone to work on a Linux desktop fully within Arabic, or is it necessary to use English?
Arabeyes Project is currently leading the Arabization of Open Source software. When the project first started, it focused on the GUI interfaces (KDE, Gnome) and lots of effort was put into it (99% of KDE is translated, while only 43% of Gnome is, probably because it wasn't updated to the most recent version of Gnome). Today, volunteers focus more on the major applications, such as "Debian Installer", "Firefox", "OpenOffice" and so on. Looking at the statistics and activity today in Arabeyes, I would say that the lack of awareness of the importance of the project had caused having small numbers participating. Many of the translation projects are inactive, or with very small activity, making it lagging specially that Open Source software have a short release cycle, making a 8 months old translation out-of-date. Another problem is that that Arabic translation projects need is to get the interest of other profiles of users. Currently most of translators are in the IT-related field, and most are students.
Now while it is possible to work on GUI linux in Arabic and have almost all the basic application in arabic interface, with the fast advance in the Open source applications, and the slower movement in the translation effort, the gap might go large at certain times of the software and release lifetimes.