Modernizing for social equity through digital progress

Interview with Atef Helmy

Minister of Communications and Information Technology



Atef Helmy, Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, has more than 30 years of experience in Information Technology, executive management and business. He assumed a number of executive management and leadership positions in multinational organizations with an effective contribution in developing the IT exports industry. As Minister of CIT, Atef Helmy Chairs the Board of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) and others. He also oversees the supervision of Egypt Post. 

Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has been forging ahead with its ICT Strategy 2013 – 2017 for digital socio-economic development With its sights firmly set on a forward route to prosperity, freedom .. and social equity, the Ministry’s agenda for ICT sees modernization reaching all key areas of citizen-centric services and development. We spoke to Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Atef Helmy to learn more about the latest achievements in the ongoing implementation of this strategy.

How has Egypt progressed in terms of the ICT revolution and what are some of the major milestones?

The world is witnessing a revolution in information and communications technology (ICT) the scope of which stretches far beyond the realm of the sector itself. No country seeking real, sustainable development and progress can hope to achieve these aims without a strong ICT sector in place to drive the necessary change. The ICT sector, in the next phase, should focus on adapting ICTs to find solutions to issues of concern to the community. While this process has indeed already begun, the sector should develop a community vision based on the principle that development should occur not only in the public service sector but also in the managerial approach of the state and its constituent bodies.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology was established in 1999 to develop the national ICT sector. Highlights of MCIT’s journey so far include the release of the National Communications Plan in 2000, the Strategy for Building the Information Society in 2003, the IT Industry National Development Strategy in 2006 and the National Strategy for Communications and Information Technology in 2007.

The National ICT Strategy for 2013-2017 is another important stage of this process. As with previous strategies, it focuses on integrating ICTs across all sectors to serve the national development priorities, which includes preserving natural resources and the environment. In the formulation of this strategy, the primary considerations were the political and economic changes taking place in Egypt, the development of the communications sector both regionally and internationally and Egypt’s national development priorities, in addition to the achievements and challenges of the sector over the last decade.

The new strategy supports the country’s transition to democracy while contributing to the development of the communications sector both regionally and internationally.

How does this translate in terms of facilitating development alongside other ministries in this overall transition?

Some 28 cooperation protocols were signed in 2013 with over 30 Egyptian ministries and 16 government bodies. These protocols include a total of 163 projects with a budget of EGP 2bn, which will be implemented in the coming years. In this regard, the Ministry’s strategy is aimed at shifting towards a digital society to keep pace with global trends, relying on the latest IT and knowledge in order to develop the economic and social systems – and reorganize production cycles. This shift will therefore help improve work efficiency and solidify the role of ICT in the fields of health, education and agriculture, among others. The effective use of IT in these fields will directly and indirectly reflect on the citizens and improve the quality of services offered.

Is this level of inter-ministerial cooperation on digital content boosting infrastructure development?

One of the newest cooperation protocols signed is that to complete the development of infrastructure in the Ministry of Culture (MoC) and boost digital content. Our Ministry is keen to improve services performance in the different State institutions, through integrating the information technology (IT) tools in the government administrative body

MCIT strategy reflects these thoughts, with a main goal to achieve the digital society and activate the IT use in various walks of life, in order to save time and efforts and make the governmental services more accessible. The protocol aims to document MoC cultural content in a digital form that facilitates research and information retrieval. Moreover, this up-to-date form shall help spread the digital content on internet. Therefore, the significance of ICT value-added shall be enrooted. As a matter of fact, ICT, with its value-added, offers various and vital services, thus, strengthening MoC position in the society and worldwide.

The cooperation between the two ministries will result in establishing an economic model with the best revenue by marketing the digital content and in developing human capacity and providing training on computer usage. This is in addition to developing MoC and affiliated working system through the initiative to increase productivity and efficiency of government entities, and finally accessing MoC activities and events on internet.

The new protocol matches the Ministry of Culture new plan aiming to spread the Egyptian cultural heritage to reach all citizens nationwide and all enthusiasts worldwide, a matter that will strengthen Egypt’s position as a leading global cultural hub. These goals cannot be achieved efficiently without new techniques compatible to the spirit of time, or competitive infrastructure based on effectiveness and entrepreneurship in these fields. For example, the protocol stipulates the establishment of an interactive e-portal, technology homes, an e-archiving system, digital transition and e-ticketing system for the Egyptian Opera House, as well as the installment of an automated working system inside the Ministry. In addition, MCIT will provide training programs on computer usage and advanced information systems to employees.

MCIT will also provide the services of the productivity initiative for MoC employees and affiliated organizations, in an attempt to ease communications between the Ministry’s various sectors using cloud computing techniques. In addition, this protocol offers an excellent opportunity for specialized companies to open new horizons, provide new jobs for youth in the required specializations for the projects under this protocol.

As social equity has been mooted as one of Egypt’s major goals, how is the MCIT progressing in terms of community integration?

Community integration initiative aims at empowering rural and marginalized communities through development projects and raising awareness of the benefits of ICTs in cooperation with civil society organizations. The program also endeavors to promote development in rural and marginalized areas through application of technology solutions to establish an integrated sustainable development model. Moreover, it strives to empower women through illiteracy eradication programs, as well as improving services in education, healthcare and in support of small businesses through the use of ICT tools.

Egypt Information and Communication Technology Trust Fund (ICT-TF) was jointly established by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in January 2002. Sponsoring several projects, it aims to investigate the different means by which ICTs can enrich the livelihood of Egyptian citizens and foster socio-economic development .

Can you elaborate on some specific examples?

In the framework of the national plan of the state for human development and the development of marginalized areas, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has adopted a comprehensive program using ICT tools, part of its strategic activities developed as a priority for implementation in the coming years. MCIT pays great attention to human development for all members of society based on the fact that capacity-building and human skills are the key factors of progress and achievement. Computer literacy has become an essential feature of many societies.

Individuals, who do not have such skills, may not find a place within the community. There is no doubt Egypt is facing a major challenge in this regard due to the high illiteracy rate and the presence of many families in the category of low-income people . IT clubs establishment, therefore, came to fulfill the dreams of all who want to enter the information society.

At the beginning of 2000, the idea of creating IT clubs, now known as Technology Homes, came to existence within the national plan of MCIT for digital literacy among a large segment of the society, particularly in remote, poor and marginalized areas; as well as the development of skills among school graduates and Egyptian universities to prepare them for the labor market, and to provide Internet service to facilitate IT clubs’ visitors to communicate with the world.

The project is implemented through collaboration between MCIT and the private sector by providing and fully equipping computer labs in schools, clubs, universities with computers, printers, networks, and Internet access, as well as the key element in this context; namely distinguished trained teachers. MCIT launched an initiative in 2011 to convert a number of the national network of IT Clubs into Technology Homes, which function as ICT-led community service centers. The initiative was created to build on the success of IT Clubs by expanding their scope as a means to further elevate levels of ICT knowledge as Egypt transitions to a knowledge-based society.

Technology Homes – hosted by civil society associations, youth clubs, Red Crescent association libraries, and governmental and non-governmental organizations – offer a range of services for youth, adults and people with special needs, including ICT training, literacy programs, health education and community learning programs. They also provide access to e-government services, simplifying the application process for various certificates and licenses.

The Technology Homes initiative is the first stage in the creation of a “Technology Path of Egypt” – a virtual corridor that will extend across all governorates, including marginalized and underserved areas, with the aim of developing a society of knowledge and technology innovation.

MCIT seeks to reach every neighborhood across the country not only to expand the number of clubs, but also to include activities offered and segments of beneficiary. Currently, MCIT is preparing activities aimed at citizens with special needs and children.

With such rapid development and transition to digital processes, how is Internet safety and cyber-security being addressed and ensured?

Recognizing the importance of ensuring people’s safety on the Internet, MCIT has taken concrete steps to create an interactive platform to share relevant information, best practices, concerns and resources. Within this context, the ministry has taken measures to stimulate dialogue within the community, providing a repository of knowledge and progress in the Internet safety field.

For example, the National Committee for Child Online Safety was launched in June 2013, following the path of the national working group concerned with online safety, which was formed between October 2009 and January 2012, with the aim of activating a national strategy for protecting and empowering children online with the belief that empowerment is the key to online protection. The group works on preventive, protective and corrective mechanisms addressing children, parents and educators.

The National e- Safety Working Group sought a number of objectives including: Dissemination and awareness raising of safe Internet usages at homes, in the educational institutions, and NGOs; evaluation of the current situation of child online safety, and recommendations to adopt new specific policies in the field of child online protection that suit the nature of the Egyptian society and the latest technological developments; creation of a safe environment for children online; Working with similar regional and international organizations active in the same field.

Is Egypt developing cooperation in its ICT efforts both on an international and bilateral scale?

Egypt is actively engaged in a number of international organizations and initiatives working either directly or indirectly in ICT-related fields. Egypt’s role in this regard has developed over the years as the country has gained growing influence in the international ICT community. Our involvement in international organizations and initiatives in ICT – which includes holding positions of responsibility and hosting events – enables the country to influence political discussions that shape international telecommunication policies, to focus international attention on the achievements and potential of the Egyptian ICT sector, and to keep abreast of international standards.

How important is collaboration with the country’s more immediate neighbors and throughout its own region?

In the Arab region, Egypt views cooperation in the field of ICT as a means to support and expand Arab economies. Of particular importance is the coordination of Arab views on ICT-related issues of global concern.

In Africa, Egypt aims to boost development through efforts to integrate ICT across various sectors and by providing expertise and training to build infrastructure and human capacity. Cooperation with African partners also opens markets to Egyptian companies, many of which have considerable experience in large-scale infrastructure projects.