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Education of Online Dangers Trumps Enforcement in Middle East

Egypt has established a dedicated hotline where parents can turn to for help.

Educating parents and children about the dangers that exist online is more important than having law enforcement police the Internet, a top official in Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology told Government Video.

Dr. Hoda Baraka, the first deputy to Egypt’s minister of communications and information technology, said educating families is currently more important than enforcement because children who are contacted online by pedophiles do not know the adult is violating the law. “They (children) don’t know this is criminal.”

So, educating parents and children of the dangers online can prevent a problem from occurring, said Baraka, who was a speaker at the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference held in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 9 and 10. However, to help parents if a problem occurs, Egypt has established a dedicated hotline where parents can turn to for help, she said. It was not until after the hotline was created, that the “frame work for enforcement” was put in place, said Baraka, who was on a panel about online safety and “Lessons Learned in the Middle East.”

In addition, Rob Middlehurst, deputy general director for Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said Bahrain’s population of just over a million is “highly connected” on the Internet, but the knowledge of dangers lurking online “are not being addressed” by families. “Imagine a society where everything is done by family. In such a close society, lots of things are known about, but not necessarily talked about openly, so people are aware of issues, but they don’t really know about issues,” he said.

Because Bahrain’s economic future is linked to the Internet, officials are trying to “change that condition,” and get people to think about the dangers online, rather than treating is as “a great taboo” where such issues are not discussed, Middlehurst said. Bahrain is different from other Middle Eastern countries in that it does not have huge oil reserves—and the wealth that goes with such reserves—like Saudi Arabia, so it recognizes the need to have good trade relationships.

An economy heavily dependent on trade is going to require a “rich environment” of “information and communications technology” (ICT), Middlehurst said. That means connectivity, international links, and “an environment where people know how to use ICT well,” he said. However, “at the same time we give everyone access to the Internet,” there are issues they need to be made aware of. “It’s not just about how we use it (the Internet), it’s where we use it and what we use it for.”

The economic future of Egypt, with a population of 80 million, is also becoming dependent on the Internet, Baraka said. Therefore, Egypt has established a national program that is focused on educating 17 million students in 40,000 schools, not only about online dangers, but also proper use of the Internet. “It’s not about technology, it’s about learning and empowering our young people to compete globally,” she said. Students need that education because “without these advanced technologies, our young people will not find any opportunity for the job market,” she added.

However, Middlehurst—who is British—said caution and an understanding of cultural differences is very important in the Middle East. “You have to take those into consideration as an ‘X factor’ in that environment, because if you don’t and it fails, all the good will you might have had is thrown away and it’s very difficult to get it back,” he said. Therefore, even though the penetration of ICT is moving fast into that part of the world, “you don’t do things rapidly in the Middle East.”