Egypt is an exceptional location for submarine internet cables: Deemah Al-Yahya, Secretary General of the Digital Cooperation Organization

Ashraf Amin , Sunday 26 May 2024

Secretary-General of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO), Deemah Al-Yahya, stressed in an interview with Ahram Online the importance of Egypt regionally and internationally due to its young talents in digital technology and entrepreneurship and its strategic location as a meeting point for submarine cable routes, the lifeline for internet services and digital economy.

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Al-Yahya indicated that the organization has launched many initiatives to improve the efficiency of the technological infrastructure in member states and enhance foreign direct investment opportunities, thereby achieving tangible economic booms.

She added that the DCO currently has 16 member states, mostly from the southern hemisphere, representing 800 million people. Al-Yahya noted that the DCO provides promising opportunities for cooperation and joint integration. 

 

AO: Firstly, could you introduce us to the role and objectives of the DCO?

Deemah Al-Yahya: The DCO is an international organization established in 2020 and headquartered in Riyadh. Today, it includes 16 countries such as the Gulf states, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In addition, we welcomed observers from the leading tech companies, financial institutions, and civil society to enhance individuals’ life opportunities by creating an ecosystem that supports technology and the digital economy worldwide. This is extremely important, especially in light of the successive technological revolutions and digital transformation in all industrial and service sectors and the large gap between countries, whether in adopting technology or maximizing its benefits. Therefore, we were keen that our role was to cooperate with member states to create the climate at the level of laws, regulations, and infrastructure to attract foreign investments in all technology sectors. Based on the numbers, during 2023, the global digital economy represented 16 percent ($16.8 trillion) of the world’s total GDP ($105 trillion).

The digital economy is expected to grow in the next few years thanks to the successive development of supporting technologies in communication networks, internet services, Artificial Intelligence software, and other technologies. Expectations indicate that in 2030 the digital economy and the contributions of digital technology will represent 70 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product. This opportunity must be seized. Therefore, as an organization, we support member states in building infrastructure that enables them to accelerate digital transformation and invest in the digital economy.

AO: Is Egypt a member of the DCO?

DA: So far, Egypt is not a member. We hope it will join soon to maximize cooperation opportunities and benefit from Egypt’s great role in the digital economy. Egypt has a distinctive geographical location for submarine internet cables, which are the lifeline for the digital economy. In addition, Egypt has young talent in entrepreneurship and digital technologies, which is essential for supporting innovation and local digital content. As we see in the organization, cooperation and integration between the organization’s member states and Egypt is crucial to enhancing growth opportunities in the digital economy. For all of the above, we were keen to meet with His Excellency Minister Engineer Amr Talaat, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, where we discussed aspects of cooperation such as enhancing the benefit of the initiatives we launched in the Digital Cooperation Organization to support entrepreneurship and foreign direct investments in the digital economy and empowering youth and women in the digital technology sector. We also hope Egyptian technology companies will join as observer members of the organization.

 

AO: What are the most important initiatives launched by the DCO to support the digital economy globally?

DA: We found that to accelerate the pace of digitalization, especially in middle- and low-income countries, it is necessary to pump investments into infrastructure, amend regulations and laws, and invest in human competencies. All of these requirements represent an economic burden on countries and governments, so we work through the organization in partnership with the World Economic Forum to study the technological needs of each country and the legislative amendments required to attract foreign investments and bring about the change, required to support the digital economy. To achieve this, we are forming work teams in partnership with countries, opening communication channels between governments and global technology companies, which participate with us as observer members of the organization. One of the important things we do is that after studying each country’s infrastructure and investment opportunities, we advise each country on priority development sectors to achieve the desired acceleration in the digital economy.

We conduct research assessments in countries such as Pakistan, Oman, Cyprus and Rwanda. For example, we found that in Pakistan, which has a population of more than 220 million people, they possess trained technical competencies, and their annual software exports reached $3.2 billion according to 2022 statistics. This distinction of Pakistan could fill a need for other member states of the organization that need this software. Rwanda, for example, is characterized by a fibre-optic network and the availability of the fourth generation of wireless communications, which covers more than 97 percent of the country’s territory, and all government services are electronic. In contrast, the percentage of internet users does not exceed 30 percent of the population, and the reason behind this is the high cost of internet services and devices, which reduces the opportunities for growth and achieving tangible returns in the e-commerce movement. On the other hand, countries such as Oman and Pakistan have local companies that collect and manufacture smartphones and computers at economical prices, which opens opportunities for Pakistan or Oman to meet Rwanda’s needs for digital devices to maximize the benefit from internet services in their country. Therefore, through feasibility studies, listening to the vision and requirements of countries, and proposing paths for cooperation and integration among member states, we discuss ways to develop policies to increase foreign direct investment opportunities.

AO: What are the main challenges associated with foreign investments in DCO countries?

DA: We must agree that the digital economy crosses the borders of countries, and to achieve this, some basic standards must be available in all countries that want to achieve growth in this sector. In reality, there is a large disparity between countries in the level of infrastructure or legislation related to foreign direct investment. Each country has its vision of the sector to focus on in the digital economy. Therefore, we were keen to unify concepts about the digital economy and open channels of dialogue with member states to study and evaluate the needs of each country and propose the paths and priorities they should focus on to achieve their goals. In general, no country can achieve any breakthrough in the digital economy or wait for foreign direct investment without first providing digital infrastructure, policies support for cloud computing, easy access to data and digital government services, legislation and a supporting ecosystem for entrepreneurs. This continuing effort will not only help countries benefit from the digital economy but also qualify them to keep pace with successive technological developments such as the fifth generation of communications and the world of metaverses, which are virtual worlds on the internet through which countries and companies can exist to achieve unprecedented economic booms.

AO: What initiatives do you offer to support entrepreneurship?

DA: The private sector is the main engine for the digital economy, and no leaps can be made without supporting innovation and inspiring entrepreneurs' ideas. These entrepreneurs unfortunately leave their countries to scale up and grow in the developed world. This problem places countries at the consumer station, not the producers and innovators of technology. Therefore, it is important to support emerging companies and encourage youth and women to turn their ideas into businesses that grow in their countries and expand elsewhere. DCO members represent 800 million people, a huge number that exceeds the population of the European Union. It is necessary to take advantage of these opportunities for entrepreneurs and maximize the benefit of their innovations in any country affiliated with the DCO while emphasizing survival and growth in the country of origin. To achieve this and reduce the time it takes companies to study regulations, laws, and tax systems in each country, we discussed the facilities that can be provided by each country that receives investments for startup companies from a member country of the organization. We also discussed ways to coordinate and harmonize policies for the work of startup companies in member countries of the organization and ways to facilitate and harmonize procedures to allow startups to expand and open new markets. We have recently asked member states to present the facilities they can provide to any emerging company that wants to invest in their country. We hope that such cooperation will develop so that we can issue a special entrepreneur passport that allows them to work and move easily and open offices for their startup companies in any country affiliated with the DCO.

AO: Finally, what is your vision for regulating ethical guidelines to support the digital economy?

DA: This is extremely important and is among our organization's priorities. Therefore, we have issued several studies dealing with legal rights in the metaverse, digital identity theft, bullying on social media, the dangers of rumours and false and misleading digital information, and ways to establish safe frameworks and guarantee citizens’ rights within the internet. 

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