In February 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 lockdowns, I visited Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had not been there in five years.
At first glance, there’s a clear need for expanding the Web beyond the Latin alphabet, including in the Arabic-speaking world. According to the Madar Research Group, about 56 million Arabs, or 17 percent of the Arab world, use the Internet, and those numbers are expected to grow 50 percent over the next three years.
Many think that an Arabic-alphabet Web will bring millions online, helping to bridge the socio-economic divides that pervade the region.
Discotheques and taxicabs all over Egypt last January were playing the songs of a new pop star. No one knew exactly where “the Earthquake of ’88” (his biographer’s term) had come from, but everyone seemed to think Ali Hemida was a Bedouin. Some said he came from Sinai; others said Libya. His music was unusual, his dialect not Egyptian, and his lyrics ("wearing silk, she’s like a gazelle, henna-painted hands") evoked the life of desert Arabs.