The use of information and communication technologies to assist in governmental activities is common in the MENA region. Concerted efforts to apply these technologies systematically to public services and for improving governance practices have become widespread over the past five years. The region therefore offers a very broad range of experience in this area. Countries like Egypt, Morocco and Jordan are primarily concerned with basic implementation – largely in the context of improved administration – while countries like Bahrain and Dubai are applying e-government good practice quite widely to expand services to citizens and to foster inward investment and growth.
Chapter 7 concentrates on these recent efforts, focusing on five countries (Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco) that illustrate a range of practices in a variety of contexts. In Bahrain, trained intermediaries help the public to accept and use new e-government services. Initially pioneered by the elecommunications authority to assist clients with electronic bill payment, these intermediaries are qualified, sympathetic and enthusiastic young officials who guide citizens in the hands-on use of many different functions.
The company-registration scheme run by Dubai’s Economic Development Agency demonstrates the potential, and the challenges, of large-scale horizontal co-ordination. The private sector stands to benefit significantly from the automatic co-ordination of the dozen agencies involved in registering a new company.
Egypt began e-government with back-office and decision support systems for government, dating back to the late 1980s. It has extended the technology to citizen services like the national births, deaths and marriages registry. The importance of high-level sponsorship for such major implementation is imperative and the Egyptian Cabinet of Ministers, through its in-house Information and Decision Support Centre, has led the application of state-of-the-art practice.
Jordan created a new Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MoICT) in 2002 to guide ICT policies, regulation and operation and serve as a “single point of contact” for all stakeholders in Jordan’s ICT sector. It also launched a new regulator for the sector. E-government services cover both citizen services and government operations. The Ministry of Education website is an example of active government engagement with citizens. For example, it offers e-mail notifications of school schedules and administration and encourages citizen participation, as well as allowing online payments.
In Morocco, significant advances have been made by the national e-government initiative. A new five-year plan will bring e-government into the context of broader ICT industry support, including a push to make Morocco an attractive location for ICT off-shoring activities and providing new support for research and development.