From Strategic Planning

Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, with 206 million speakers around the world [1]. And yet, despite dramatic recent growth of Internet penetration in the Arab World, only 1.4% of online digital content is in Arabic [2].

Regional and international organizations and government institutions agree that this lack of Arabic language materials online inhibits the ability of Arabic speakers to effectively use the Internet to gain information and exchange ideas. Many initiatives have been established to address this issue, such as the ESCWA Arabic Content Competition and Al Waraq. Most are aimed at digitizing the existing published Arabic body of knowledge, including almost all religious texts and many major works of Arabic literature. Thus far, less effort seems to be invested in arabising and translating emerging or topical knowledge sources such as those available on the web, and in fostering local knowledge communities. This leaves the Arab Internet user with limited access to modern knowledge online, hindering the development of an information society in the Arab world.

Over 20% of Arabic speakers have Internet access, resulting in approximately 100 million users. Arabic is also the language of media, education, and commerce for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Wikipedia is a major source for high-quality, up-to-date information for Arab Internet users. According to, (all language editions) is among the #10–#20 most popular websites in virtually all Arabic speaking countries [3]. (It is most popular in the United Arab Emirates, where it is the 10th most-popular site; it is least popular in Saudi Arabia, where it is number 29.)

The Arabic Wikipedia, however, is currently lagging behind other language versions of Wikipedia, in terms of both its size (number of articles) and contributor base (number of contributors). As of August 2008, it contains 71,043 articles, ranking only 28th among Wikipedia language versions. During July 2008, only 450 users made five or more edits on the Arabic language Wikipedia, compared with about 10,000 on the English language Wikipedia. Arabic Wikipedia has less than 20,000 articles greater than 1.5KB, supported by a limited number of dedicated editors. Arabic Wikipedia development faces many challenges including the lack of tools and ability of MediaWiki to accommodate right-to-left writing.

In August 2008, the total number of Arabic Wikipedia pages viewed every month was approximately 20.7 million. Some of the most accessed articles like "Arabic language" reached more than 19,000 readers per month [4].

In July 2008, readers of the Arabic Wikipedia were most interested in the following topics (the numbers in brackets indicate a score: 5 views per hour result in 1 point) [5]:

  • Geography – in particular articles about countries of the Middle East (Total: 12,442)
    • Egypt (739)
    • Turkey (709)
    • Saudi Arabia (706)
    • Morocco (668)
    • Israel (664)
    • Syria (658)
    • Lebanon (648)
    • Iraq (648)
    • France (640)
    • Kuwait (614)
    • and others
  • Arabic culture (Total: 6,825)
    • Arabic language (722)
    • Saddam Hussein (697)
    • Muhammad (660)
    • Ali (630)
    • Belly dance (591)
    • Umar (585)
    • and others

Among other topics of interest were

  • Information Technology (Total: 2,566)
  • Movies (Total: 1,795).

In August 2008, the Arabic Wikipedia counted 102 featured articles (مقالات مختارة), thus 0.14 percent of its content had been rated as high quality by the community. Compared to other language versions, this is a above average. Only the Danish and the German language Wikipedia have a higher portion of high quality content compared to the total number of articles. However, the Arabic Wikipedia has no category of “good articles” which could have an effect on the number of “featured articles” and taint the result.

Topics of featured articles on the Arabic Wikipedia include the History of the Arabic Region (17 articles, 16.7%), Technology and History of Technology (8 articles, 7.8%), Biology (7 articles, 6.8%), Geography (6 articles, 5.9 %), World History (6 articles, 5.9%), Informatics (6 articles, 5.9%), Sports (5 articles, 4.9%), Literature (5 articles, 4.9%), and others.

The Arabic Wikipedia was launched in July 2003. The project has reached a number of milestones since then:

  • Article number 10,000 was نكاف (Mumps) created on 25 December 2005
  • Article number 50,000 was جامعة تكساس مدرسة الطب في هيوستن (University of Texas Medical Branch) created on 31 December 2007
  • Article number 60,000 was مكتبة فرنسا الوطنية (Bibliothèque nationale de France) created on 26 May 2008
  • Article number 70,000 was مجموعة محاطة (Bounded set) created on 15 August 2008.

See Middle East and North Africa for analysis of Arabic language, its Wikipedia, and Internet connectedness in the Arab speaking world.

There is an Arabic Task Force developing recommendations for increasing penetration in Arabic-speaking countries.

Internet and Mobile Access

According to the Arab Knowledge Report 2009 (English, Arabic), Internet access has grown steadily in the Arab World over the past years, although Internet adoption rate is still less than the world average rate. Arabic content on the web has grown 2000% from 2000-2008 (compared to 200% for English content).

Mobile devices are going to grow into prominence as a way to access the internet in the Arab world over the next five years (as 3G networks are put in place). Already most cellphone platforms support Arabic interfaces for accessing the web. The problem is the lack of fully Arabized devices/mobile applications for such access (although this is changing).

A 2009 study of the Arabic blogosphere shows that YouTube is the number one linked to web site by Arabic bloggers, linked more than twice as often than the number two site, which is English Wikipedia. Al Jazeera is third, BBC is fourth, and Arabic Wikipedia is sixth. Al Jazeera and Wikipedia are unique in that bloggers across different political and regional clusters link to it as a source.



Stern (2002) suggest there is a literacy spectrum:[6] (is this valid, are there other ways to look at this?)

  • alphabetic literacy - able to write
  • functional literacy - able to read and write
  • social literacy - able to communicate in a cultural context
  • information literacy - able to locate, critically evaluate, and use information
  • digital information literacy - able to apply information literacy in the digital environment

In addition to classical literacy -- focusing mainly on written text -- there is media literacy that is not limited to written text, but all forms of messages we watch, hear, and read. Media literacy focuses on critical interpretation of different kind of information including news, entertainment, advertisement and propaganda in all different media, such as new papers, magazines, radio, TV, Internet/WWW etc.

In order to use Wikipedia as a reader, one would need the highest level of literacy -- digital information literacy or perhaps information literacy and media literacy. To contribute to Wikipedia as an editor, one may need a level of literacy and skill (& technical competence) beyond that.

UNESCO Information For All Programme (IFAP) defines information literacy as the capacity of people to recognize their information needs, locate and evaluate the quality of information, store and retrieve information, make effective and ethical use of information and apply information to create and communicate knowledge (Catts & Lau, 2008).[7]

Applied to Wikimedia projects

In order to use Wikipedia as a reader, one would need the highest level of literacy -- digital information literacy or perhaps information literacy and media literacy. To contribute to Wikipedia as an editor, one may need a level of literacy and skill (& technical competence) beyond that.

If Wikimedia content could be presented in alternative, simpler to use formats or platforms (e.g. offline, wikipocket reader(practical?), SMS, or something simpler), be well-written or presented concisely, and content organized/selected in a way that it's most relevant for the audience, then the information could be made accessible to those with social or only functional literacy.

In Wikipedia content could be presented in alternative media formats, such as audio and video the information could be made accessible for those with out alphabetic / functional literacy, but media literacy skills. Users with audio and video production skills, but not functional literacy in their native language could have content in Wikipedia in a recorded spoken narratives in audio and/or video.

With Arabic, there may be some extra gap between being socially literate (colloquial is fine) and information literate (tends to be written in standard Arabic). In some places, when one reaches the high end of the literacy spectrum, some people might be learning English as well, and that could become a key language of information and especially digital literacy. (the extent that this is true, should be confirmed/discussed, and may vary from country to country, as well as rural to urban areas) Aude 07:52, 2 December 2009 (UTC)

Wikipedia editors tend to come from the highest end of the literacy spectrum -- fully comfortable and confident in ability to write well in standard Arabic, be well educated about subject areas so they can write about them, and able to find sources. Some of the sources may be in English(?) With many at the highest end of the literacy spectrum able to use English (and use it very well), they might migrate towards the English Wikipedia. If this is the case, this could further dilute the pool of potential editors for Arabic Wikipedia.


  • In various countries, what is the level of literacy for written, standard Arabic?
  • How standardized (and well-written) is the material that is written on the Arabic Wikipedia?
  • What level/extent of ability is there in the English and/or French languages? among the younger, well educated who might be more likely to contribute to a project like Wikipedia?



  • How open or restricted is the media (print, broadcast, internet) in various countries?


Questions: In various countries, what's the availability of internet access?

  • How much does broadband access (e.g. DSL or other options) cost, in relation to average household (or some measure of) income?
  • What is the level of censorship by the governments?
  • At internet cafes, is one required to provide their mobile phone number (and identify themselves) before getting a wi-fi access code?
  • How is the technical infrastructure and capacity? (e.g. in Africa, Seacom is being rolled out to link East Africa with Europe/Asia, and increase capacity in 2010)
  • If one has broadband service, is it capped at a certain amount of data usage per month?
  • Other questions...



Arabic Wikipedia


Strategy proposals

Proposals related to the work of this task force
  • [...] insert proposals here.

Other resources


  1. Estimate from 1999 as stated in the 2005 edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the World (15th edition).
  2. "Arabic Digital Content: Opportunities, Priorities and Directions," ESCWA 2005.
  3. (accessed August 2008)
  5. Mathias Schindler: Arabic Wikipedia – Top-50 most viewed articles in July 2008, generated on Tuesday August 5, 2008
  6. Stern, Caroline (2002) "Information Literacy Unplugged: Teaching Information Literacy without Technology"