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City of Brass

This is an interesting development – Yahoo has bought the Arabic-language portal Maktoob.com:

The global internet giant said on Tuesday it has entered into a definitive agreement with Jordan-based Maktoob Group to acquire Maktoob.com for an undisclosed fee. Maktoob Business is a part of Maktoob.com.netvibesym3.png

[..] The acquisition will allow Yahoo! to offer Arabic-language content for the first time as well as Arabic versions of its products and services, such as instant messaging and email.

[…] Maktoob.com, founded in 2000, is among the top 10 internet sites in almost all Arabic-speaking countries, according to U.S.-based research firm Alexa.

“With the combination of the Yahoo and the Maktoob brands … and the breadth of content and services that we have, we expect to be one of the strongest players in the region,” Keith Nilsson, Senior Vice President, Emerging Markets, Yahoo!, told Maktoob Business.

[…] Internet penetration across the Middle East stands at around 23.3 percent, compared to more than 70 percent in the UK and U.S., according to InternetWorldStats.com.

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, internet penetration stands at just 12.9 percent, while in the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia penetration is only 22.7 percent.

Ahmed Nassef, General Manager, Maktoob.com, said: “In most part of the Arab world we are just at the start of internet penetration.

“Yahoo! Maktoob will create the products to bring the Arab world online, and then offer Middle East businesses the opportunity to talk to that audience.”

For Maktoob.com the takeover will likely bring significant investment and access to Yahoo !technology with which to optimise its current offering.

The deal will also boost the English-language side of Maktoob.com as Yahoo! is already the number two website in many Arab countries without Arabic support or a regionally-focused content.

There’s a related article about why this deal is so important, and also lambasting the Arab media for utterly failing to recognize or report on this landmark deal. In a number of ways, this deal highlights the disconnect between Arab leaders and the next generation:

It finally puts us Arabs on the global Internet map. It will get people to pay attention to this region’s knowledge-based industry, where there is an impressive number of technology entrepreneurs.maktoob.jpg

It is the ultimate success story in a region long used to failure. For our younger generations, it is a wonderful example of how a dream can turn into a brilliant achievement through a combination of boundless creativity and down-to-earth business sense.

For our leaders, it is hopefully a painful reminder of the distance between their priorities and the ambitions of an increasingly wired younger generation (16.5 million of whom are unique visitors of Maktoob’s) eager to move away from a state-driven, oil-dominated future.

For our wealthy Arab investors, it is a wakeup call that true value lies in our youth rather than in real estate, and that talent is closer to home than they could have ever imagined.

For the Arab world, it is proof that money may count for something but, in the final analysis, an education, smarts and determination count for much more, because the two entrepreneurial gentlemen who made Maktoob started out in Jordan – their home and, it just so happens, one of our area’s more resource-poor countries – and, even when their company reached way beyond it, never left.

In all of this, I find reason for genuine optimism – the Internet is indeed the liberalizing, democratic force that we have believed it to be, and the very fact that Maktoob’s success is incomprehensible to the Arab elite suggests that the next generation of leaders is poised to remake their society when it is their turn.

For more information, see coverage of the Yahoo-Maktoob deal from Techcrunch. Also, Yahoo has confirmed the deal on their own blog.

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