Monday, June 06, 2011

Muslim States in the "Global Information Technology Report"

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.


The World Economic Forum recently released its 2011 Global Information Technology Report, as it has done for the past 10 years now. These reports measure the state of readiness and development of information and communication technology (ICT) in most countries of the world (138 states in the current report).
In addition to tables of data, the report contains a number of chapters, which are essentially essays or case studies (including one on Saudi Arabia) by experts. These chapters include: “the promise of technology” (ICT’s impact on productivity, competitiveness, networks, and relations between governments and citizens, among others); “building communities around digital highways”; “the growing possibilities of [ICT] for reducing poverty”; etc.
One of the main (relatively new) ideas in this year’s report is the emphasis on “Localisation 2.0”, which stresses the current transformation of today’s ICT world from one that has been dominated by developed countries and the English language to one where local communities, cultures, languages, customs, and laws are playing an important role in allowing ICT to benefit people everywhere. Globalization, at least in the ICT domain, is changing into a multi-cultural mindset.
The data tables turn out to be extremely rich and interesting – as is most often the case with these kinds of detailed reports. The tables are real gold mines. For each country, one gets not just general indicators and an overall ICT readiness score, but no less than 71 lines of evaluation scores on various items, including: quality of educational system; quality of math and science education; internet access in schools; percentage of households with personal computer(s); etc. I’ll have to come back to these tables later.
And as usual, while I do look at the whole picture, including performances by various developed countries, I like to pay closer attention to Muslim (or Muslim-majority) states. Looking at the general table of “networked readiness index for 2010-2011”, one finds the usual suspects at the top: Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Switzerland, USA, Taiwan, Denmark, Canada, Norway, and South Korea, in the top ten. The only surprise is finding Italy at the 51st place and India at 48th.
Looking down the table and searching for Muslim-majority states, one finds the UAE at the 24th place, Qatar (25th), Malaysia (28th), Bahrain (30th), Saudi Arabia (33rd), Tunisia (35th), Oman (41st), Jordan (50th),, Indonesia (53rd), Turkey (71st), Egypt (74th), Kuwait (75th), Morocco (83rd), Pakistan (88th), Lebanon (95th), Iran (101st), Bangladesh (115th), Algeria (117th), Syria (124th), and Libya (126th).
But of course, one cannot compare Bangladesh and Algeria or even Turkey and Egypt so simply, considering their drastically different incomes and states of development. And the report, fully aware of this, adds a column in the table to reflect that, by referring to each country according to its average income level: high income (HI), upper-middle income (UM), lower middle income (LM), and low income (LO). And with that, the performance or status of each country can be looked at more objectively, and an assessment of its progress can really be made.
With that factor in mind, the high ranking of the Gulf countries is no longer impressive, since they are all “high income” (HI) states, but the relatively high positions of Malaysia and Tunisia become more striking, since Malaysia is a UM (upper-middle income) state, and Tunisia is an LM (lower middle income) state; indeed, both of these have the highest ranks in their respective UM and LM groups. Also with that consideration, the low rankings of Iran and Algeria (both UM countries) become even more worrisome.
As I’ve said, there is a large amount of data and analysis in that report, and I hope to find time and occasions in the near future to come back to various sub-fields and aspects of the report.
The report can be found and downloaded here. Additional material, including video presentations, can be found here.

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