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Historic day as first non-Latin web addresses go live


Arab nations are leading a “historic” change to make the world wide web live up to its name.

Historic day as the internet undergoes one of the biggest changes in its four-decade history

nonlatinInternet regulator ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has switched on a new system that allows full web addresses containing non-Latin characters. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the first countries to have so-called “country codes” written in Arabic scripts. And the move is the first step to allow web addresses in many scripts including Chinese, Thai and Tamil. It is understood that to date, more than 20 countries have requested approval for international domains from the (Icann).

ICANN says that the new domains are “available for use now” although it admits there is still some work to be done before they worked correctly for every language. However, it add that these were “mostly formalities”.

ICANN’s senior director for internationalised domain names, Tina Dam, told BBC News that this has been “the most significant day” since the launch of the Internet, adding that “it’s been a very big day for ICANN, more so for the three Arabic countries that were the first to be introduced”.

Right to left reading

The introduction of the first web names using so-called country code top-level domains (CCTLDs) is the culmination of several years of work by the organisation.

Previously, web sites could use some non-Latin letters, but the country codes such as .eg for Egypt had to be written in Latin script.

The three new suffixes will allow web addresses to be completely written in native characters.

One of the first web sites with a full Arabic address is the Egyptian Ministry of Communications.

Egypt’s communication and information technology minister Tarek Kamal told the Associated Press that three Egyptian companies were the first to receive registrar licenses for the ‘.masr’ domain, written in Arabic, a development that he called a “milestone in Internet history”.

Masr means Egypt in Arabic.

Some countries, such as China and Thailand, had already introduced workarounds that allow computer users to enter web addresses in their own language. However, these were not internationally approved and do not necessarily work on all computers.

Ms Dam explained that the change was “not about shutting non-Arabic or non-Chinese speakers out of the Internet. “It’s about including that large part of our world into the Internet today.” She added that there had previously been a risk that people would start creating their own alphabet-specific internets in Chinese, Arabic, Thai…

ICANN has warned, however, that the internationalised domain names (IDNs), as they are known, would also not work on all PCs immediately.

“You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some percent signs or a couple of “xn--“s mixed into the address bar,” said ICANN. “Computers never come with the complete set of fonts that will allow it to show every possible IDN in the world. Often this is fixed by downloading additional language packs for the missing languages, or specifically finding and installing fonts that support the wanted languages.”

Global access

In 2009 when ICANN first announced its plans for non-Latin web names it said it was the “biggest change” to the net “since it was invented 40 years ago. Over half the Internet users around the world don’t use a Latin-based script as their native language. IDNs are about making the Internet more global and accessible for everyone.”


The first country codes:
Egypt: مصر
Saudi Arabia: السعودية
United Arab Emirates: امارات
Source: ICANN

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