Lebanon: ArabNet discussed the future of Arabic web in English


Photo Courtesy of Roobee

Arabnet 2010 is a tech conference that was held in Beirut on March 25 and 26. The conference is the first international conference for the Arab web industry, bringing together leaders from across the MENA, Europe and Silicon Valley to discuss cutting-edge trends and emerging opportunities. While many of the participants considered it a success, there was a major criticism that kept people talking and writing about it days after the conference was concluded. The problem was that while the conference supposedly focused on Arabic web, it adopted English as its official language and the website, discussions, and presentations were all in English.

Bent Masreya [ar] who was one of the official bloggers of the conference commented on her blog saying:

لماذا يتحدث المؤتمر بالإنجليزية رغم أن المؤتمر عن الإنترنت في العالم العربي؟ […] يبدو أنه سؤال حير الكثيرين من الذين رددوه على تويتر، البعض اعتبره إهانة للغة العربية، أو تقليل من قيمتها، والبعض اعتبره تعبيرا عن عجز الكثيرين من المتحدثين العرب عن التحدث بعربية سليمة.
Why does the conference speak English while it is about internet in the Arab World? […] It looks like a question that puzzled the lot who were repeating it on Twitter. Some considered it an insult to the Arabic language, or a disregard to its value, while others considered it a display of the inability of many Arabs to speak proper Arabic.

Global Voices Online‘s own Alloush[ar] weighed in, expressing his disappointment and shock:

بداية المؤتمر تحدث عن الفجوة بين الشرق و الغرب وأنه هنا ليحقق خطوة ما لسدّ هذه الفجوة، طبعاً لا أدري كيف نردم الفجوة في ظل عدم ايمان القائمين على المؤتمر وهم نخبة المبدعين العرب، وهم غير مؤمنين بلغتهم
For starters, the conference talked about the gap between East and West and that its aim to achieve a step towards closing that gap. Of course, I don't know how we can close the gap while the conference's organizers, who happen to be the elite of Arab creative minds, don't believe in their mother tongue.

Not Green Data blog defends the decision to use English saying:

English is the de facto language for businesses nowadays, and if you really want to attract the likes of “Y Combinator”, “Reid Hoffman”, and “Benchmark Capital” you have to market your startup in English.

Many others commented on the blog: some  like Ziad Nasser focused on the success, while others like Arabinator continued to criticize the shortcomings of Arabnet and listed dozens of tweets[ar] from people sharing his frustrations.

Mohamad Sahli goes beyond merely criticizing the conference for using English or ignoring the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and Mauritania) and he announces plans of his own[ar]:

حتى لا يبدو كلامي مجرد اعتراضات جوفاء دون توفير البديل، أقول: منذ فترة وأنا أرغب بتنظيم مؤتمر مثل Le Web، في المغرب، حول الويب العربي. الآن قررت أن يكون ذلك شهر يناير 2011. لا أملك أي خبرة، لا كاريزما ولا دفتر عناوين مليء بهواتف التنفيذين الكبار في الشركات العالمية. لكني سأفعلها
Just so my words don't sound like hollow criticisms which don't provide an alternative I say: for a while I wanted to organize a conference like “Le Web” in Morocco about the Arabic web. So far I've decided that it's going to be in January 2011. I don't have any experience, no charisma, nor an address book filled with the phone numbers of top executives in international corporations, but I'm going to do it.

Despite the controversy over ArabNet 2010, many look forward toward ArabNet 2011 hoping that it would bring further innovation into the Arabic-speaking web and manage to overcome the issues that hampered its first iteration.

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