When the question, ‘Who owns the Internet’ is asked, the usual reply is either ‘nobody’ or ‘everybody’. Arab Media & Society publishes a research paper [20-page PDF] that suggests those answers aren’t quite right when it comes to the Internet in Arab countries.

Internet access came to the Arab world over a period of years. The table below is taken from the paper.

    1991 Tunisia
    1993 Egypt, Algeria, UAE, Kuwait
    1994 Jordan
    1995 Bahrain, Lebanon, Morocco
    1996 Yemen
    1997 Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria

Over that period, and since, there has been competition, both within and among countries, over the ownership of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), through whose facilities people access the Internet. Reasons for ownership are multiple, ranging from simple profit-making to control of content for political, religious, and/or social ends. There is power in ownership that can be translated into political power. The political power can be extended through the fact that ISPs also have identifying information about who is providing and who is accessing information that flows through their channels; how they access it; and at what price.

The paper concludes, though, that there is, at present, no monopoly ownership of the Arab Internet, with the possible exceptions of Syria—which does maintain total control over Internet—and Bahrain, whose BATELCO phone company utterly dominates the scene. For other countries, there are widespread and often interlocking relationships with other countries in the Arab world and with some European countries. Not too surprisingly, France is the leader here, though Italy and Britain play smaller roles. Most surprising to me, is that Russia is beginning to insert itself into the Arab Internet. Somewhat less surprising, though still remarkable to me, is that this research showed no Iranian ownership patterns. I assume this could be a matter of state policy, but suspect that direct cash infusions into political entities such as Hezbollah account for at least some influence, if not direct ownership.

All in all, I think the paper and interesting one, worth taking the time to read.

Ruling the Arab Internet:
An Analysis of Internet Ownership Trends of Six Arab Countries

Michael J. Oghia3 and Helen Indelicato


This body of research focused on answering the questions, “who owns Arab Internet media?” and “what are the implications of this ownership?” Grounding our theoretical framework within the Agenda–Setting Theory of McComb & Shaw (1972), we conducted a critical empirical analysis scrutinizing major Internet service provider websites from six Arab countries: Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and looked specifically for trends such as monopolies, oligarchies, and investment in telecommunications companies by foreign and regional entities. Our results indicated that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are highly invested in Arab telecommunications. Furthermore, there is a strong economic and political link between Egypt, the U.A.E., Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and an interconnection exists between companies from these countries. Other Arab countries such as Kuwait and Bahrain are also investing in regional ISPs. There is limited investment from outside the region, but Orange Telecom (the commercial brand of France Telecom) dominates this foreign investment. The results also indicate that although there are no monopolies (with the partial exceptions of Bahrain and Syria), there are emerging oligopolies of Arab Internet media, specifically growing individually out of each of the countries we examined. Implications for these results indicate that inter–country oligopolies may potentially develop as more regional investors take control of Internet companies, and as more connections are made (such as with the Hariri family or other political and economic leaders, Saudi Oger, the Saudi Telecom Company, and the connection between Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), more influence on control and regulation—as well as what is regulated and controlled—will be exerted.

June:15:2011 - 09:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink
4 Responses to “Who Owns the Arab Internet?”
  1. 1
    Sparky Said:
    June:16:2011 - 02:59 

    The silence is deafening here Yo

    BATELCO codeword grrrr

    Oh wait let me offer something…


    You know what it is Black and Yellow owns the internet!

  2. 2
    BALDEAGLE 11 Said:
    June:16:2011 - 14:36 

    In most nations of the middle East, the physical control of the ‘internet’ is owned or governed by the ITU agreed contractual terms between the the contracted operator and the territorial entity; the Government, which under defined circumstances, either command the blocking of both digital and analogue circuits, or order the suspension of all or any service, as a right! But the better question in this current age of cellular interconnected global services is who has TOTAL ACCESS to the traffic, ( whenever they want, to copy )?

  3. 3
    John Burgess Said:
    June:16:2011 - 15:29 

    @Baldeagle11: I think the more pertinent question is who has both the technology and the time/effort/manpower/computational power to monitor it all. The answer to that is ‘nobody’. Various countries, including the US, have a wide array of technical means, but even it lacks the ability to monitor the billions of pieces of information shooting around the globe any given hour.

  4. 4
    Firozali A.Mulla DBA Said:
    June:16:2011 - 15:31 

    Barack Obama has vigorously defended his right to take military action in Libya without the formal approval of Congress after Republican leaders challenged his authority amid growing suspicion on the right of costly foreign military operations.
    This week the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, wrote to Obama telling him that, under the 1973 war powers act, the president was obliged to seek congressional approval for the Libyan venture before Friday.The White House responded by saying the law, which states there must be a vote in the legislature within 90 days of the president taking the US to war, did not apply because American participation in the Nato bombing did not amount to full-blown war
    I thank you West is still holding the intertest

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