With a move to become one of the first countries to offer non-Latin language scripts in domain names, Qatar is pushing forward with efforts to help accelerate the development of e-services and e-commerce environments throughout the Arabic-speaking world. In February, the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) announced that its website had became the first to use a Qatar-specific domain name in Arabic, with more Arabic domains set to be available for government entities and registered trademark holders starting in March.
“[The] delegation of Qatar internet domains to ictQATAR brings us one step closer to being able to offer our domains in Arabic language, and is the first step in implementing the recently issued e-transactions law,” said Hessa Al Jaber, ictQATAR’s secretary-general.
Passed last August, the e-transactions law is Qatar’s first comprehensive attempt to deal with the rules and regulations concerning e-commerce, as well as the penalties for breaking rules online. The law was drafted by ictQATAR to “foster a safe and reliable environment for companies that utilise the internet as their primary modus operandi”.
The law, modelled on similar UN and EU directives, includes provisions on e-mail privacy, the security of consumer information with regard to online shopping and the legalisation of e-signatures. The implementation of Qatar-specific Arabic domain names is expected to boost business confidence in the e-trading platform established by the legislation.
“We are extremely pleased to welcome Qatar to be among the first countries to acquire a top-level domain in Arabic,” said Rod Beckstrom, the president and chief executive officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). “It’s our hope that this will increase internet access not just for the citizens of Qatar but, for all Arabic-speaking internet users around the world.”
In May last year, ICANN picked Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the first three countries able to use country-code specific top-level domains, allowing addresses for regional Web sites to be in local language characters – Qatar was one of the 21 nations that lodged a fast-track application to join the service.
“Introducing other languages like Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese to the internet addressing system is the biggest change since the establishment of the internet 40 years ago,” said Saleh Al Kuwari, the chief technical manager for the regulatory authority at ictQATAR. “The launch of the Qatar Arabic domain ‘.qatar’ and the establishment of a new '.qa' domain registry will be landmarks in ictQATAR’s work towards developing Qatar’s local internet community and enhancing an effective Qatari online presence.”
In the Middle East, Qatar consistently ranks in the top three for basic ICT indicators, such as a PC ownership and subscription levels, and the value of the industry locally is estimated to reach over $620m by 2013. However, many domestic micro-enterprises – firms with fewer than 10 employees – have been slower in adopting the new technology, a delay often put down to a focus on retail segments, rather than e-business infrastructure, web presence, e-government services or e-finance.
Improving the e-commerce environment has been a key aspect of ictQATAR’s mandate since its formation in 2004 as the regulator of the emerging sector. It is hoped that the e-transactions law will give the agency adequate judicial backing to exercise full control over all aspects of online trading — from the licensing of businesses to directing the means by which business is conducted electronically.
With the use of Arabic online expanding and Qatar’s ICT sector developing rapidly, the addition of Qatar-specific domain names is expected to have a major impact on the streamlining of e-services and e-commerce, with this likely to pay handsome dividends for the country going forward.