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Sunday, July 19, 1998 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK


World: Middle East

Saudis surrender to cyber reality

The Saudi Government is conscious of the power of the Internet

Saudi Arabia is set to become the last Gulf state to allow its citizens access to the Internet.

The government, which plans to allow public access to the Net within the next few months, is finalising the technology it will use to screen out material deemed contrary to Islamic beliefs.

Our correspondent in Dubai, Frank Gardner, says keeping out unwelcome political and sexual material may prove insurmountable.

According to an official at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, there are already around 8,000 Internet users in the deeply conservative kingdom.

Royal family has Internet access already

They include government organisations, hospitals and the Saudi royal family, which itself numbers several thousand.


[ image: It is not clear whether King Fahd is au fait with the Internet]
It is not clear whether King Fahd is au fait with the Internet
The official, who is part of a group studying Internet access but who asked not to be named, said access to the Web would be extended to the general public by January 1999.

He said access would initially be limited to users in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam because of the limited number of telephone lines.

Before public access is finally granted the government wants the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to set up a screening system.

Almost impossible to filter Internet

This would in theory filter out any material which the authorities consider dangerous to the country's national security or public morals.

But a government source admitted there was no fail-safe method of screening the Internet.

A spokesman for a Saudi opposition group in London, which maintains its own Internet web site, says many Saudis already access banned material by dialling up servers in other countries.

He pointed out foreign pornography was already available in Saudi Arabia to anyone with satellite television.





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