FLOSS in Egypt (and bits of the Middle-East)

Before reading please understand that this is my personal opinion and experience and those of other middle eastern FLOSS users and non-users. Although the post is called "FLOSS in Egypt" I think alot of the issues also occur in other Arabic countries as well as third world countries (not all). Here I am pointing out problems and hoping to find solutions in a sprint during UDS or GUADEC.

One of the biggest benefits of FLOSS is that it is for free and open source. Which a lot of developed countries learned how to make use of, decrease costs and generate profit. It has become a trend that more and more nations are adopting in sense of deployment and contribution. Yet where I come from people are not catching up on the trend. I sat down with a couple of friends of mine (mostly Egyptians) and tried to analyze why is the middle east so ignorant towards FLOSS compared to other nations. I will list down the problems that FLOSS is facing to be deployed in the middle east and their impact on deployment and contribution

It starts off with Education. Basically this is the most essential problem that affects the existence of FLOSS in the middle east. I can't speak for all Arabs but at least in my country (Egypt) the average kid gets exposed to computers at the age of 17. I remember my first day at an Egyptian university there was a workshop for all first year students to introduce them to computers (mouse, keyboard, etc...). And those who are exposed to them at a young age usually use the computer for video games and nonsense. At the uni I did not find one Linux or Solaris workstation anywhere. All computers were windows and all homework was to be submitted in Microsoft Office. Introduction to programming was in the second year and they were introduced to .NET (I left by then). So basically a whole year went by teaching students what computers are etc... Their first encounter is with computers was all closed source. Most FLOSS contributers encounter opensource at the same age most of Egyptians even encounter computers. Which really lowers the expectations of contribution. The Egyptian universities not even providing any FLOSS in their facilities makes the odds of ever really dealing with FLOSS even lower.

Let us assume that education went well. One encounters a new obstacle Society. In the middle east society has a way of controlling your life and how things are supposed to be done. As soon as you are in university your family pressures you to be done as soon as possible but this is still OK. After university one can not  take a quarter year off to find himself. You are pressured to find a job quickly and get married ASAP. Here is the deal. Usually one develops his last hobbies in the mid 20s. But the pressure of work and succeeding quickly to be able to get married etc, doesn't leave you with space to find yourself and explore new hobbies. And once you are married and pressured into getting kids, I don't think it gets better at all. Job+Family leaves very little space for exploring FLOSS if you were not really exposed to it before.

Now let us assume one is lucky and education and society were not an obstacle. Ladies and gentlemen meet the FLOSS Community in Egypt. Where should I start. Well there is a community but before I state my opinion on it let me explain how it functioned the last time I checked.... It is just like the regional policy "1 BIG guy" and everyone follows, and some others trying to overthrow him, not to provide a better option but rather to occupy the position of a leader. Activities of communities are almost only "Installation fests" and once a year at some university a weekend (in which no one really would show up due to their educational and society problems) they try to hold a little speech about FLOSS. Sometimes they give out CDs too. The idea of actually convincing small companies to switch to Linux is not in the communities agenda. So basically although there is an initiative also there is a lack of innovation in standing out as a community. The frequent disputes in the communities and the mentality of being the alpha male of the gang stands in the way of developing a fully functional community. Lately however EGLUG has taken in it up a notch IMHO and I am very proud of that, but not enough though. What worries me the most is the Ubuntu LoCo Team. It is hard to figure out who to contact when they are reachable online. And also although improving lately I don't really get to see their presence in the Ubuntu world. The presence of a community is very important for deployment into bigger institutions and companies. As a LoCo one becomes a central point to refer to for FLOSS consultancy and help. Without that FLOSS will be ignored by local companies etc... Almost every organization I got in contact with when I explained to them FLOSS and why they should deploy it they responded "open source" means people who know the software can write viruses. Sadly by the time we get ot that point I lose my patience which is also an issue of the community. Also upstream communities don't really exist, and when they do, then they don't exist for long since again the crediting issue is a big deal and distributing responsibilities are usually minimal since the "leader" usually is afraid of losing control :/

Other issues that are affecting FLOSS in Egypt would be the Mentality. In a poor country people tend to be distrustful and also develop the complex of evaluating things by their costs. Example take a Linux CD and a Windows CD. Go to a random person and tell him here is Linux and here is Windows and both will cost u nothing although Windows actually would be valued XX dollars. What the person would think is "ah it costs money then it must be better". Simple as that. And when you try to explain how FLOSS could be better well again u will stomp into the education issue. Corruption believe it or not is also an issue. I remember in Egypt the police going to all Internet cafes to check for pirated Windows. If found guilty the cafe was closed. I think this operation took place for 2 weeks. Next thing you know prices of Windows XP CDs drop down to 20 dollars. Guess who made money form behind this operation :). This brings us to the Profit issue. Now as a Company in Egypt one faces all obstacles above to make money out of FLOSS by providing support etc... This lowers the interest of individuals as well as organizations to contribute to open source since money is a big issue in developing countries

All these effect the support for FLOSS too. One of the biggest disappointments to me this year was 2nd International Symposium on Computers and Arabic Language. RMS was invited to attend and after contacting Stormy to get in contact with some Arabs within the GNOME community to attend, we were then surprised by the their sudden disinterest. To quote the mail we got from RMS:

My only contact with them is *****.  Or rather, was *****.  He said that the backers were interested in funding free software projects, and then changed their minds completely.  ***** said that when he heard this, he was so disgusted that he resigned all connection with the activity It is disappointing, but I think there is nothing left for us to do

I think this is actually the result of all the issues i summed up there.

I am not saying there are no contributors from the middle east. There are just too few. And those who are there are doing a heck of a job. Phillip Khalaf (Collabora), Youness Alaoui (aMSN), Khaled Hosny (GNOME Arabic translation), and a few more... We need more people though...

I honestly did not find a way of explicitly solving the problem since it is kind of a loop. But definitely one should start with the issues Education (projects such as OLPC and GSoC) and Community (inviting aspiring LoCo teams to conferences to boost their egos and momentum) .

Society and Mentality will change a bit when the Education and Community improve. Yet those are also affected by other factors such as politics, tradition, etc... and we don't want to get into that.

Maybe this could be discussed  at UDS by some LoCo teams to find ways to give the Egyptian and other Arabic LoCo teams more momentum. Maybe have a LoCo sprint where 2 members of aspiring LoCo teams are invited to discuss local and global LoCo issues.

"Are you a FLOSS user in the Middle East? What do you think would help?"