Linux in Government: Jordan - A Surprise in the Middle East

A report from last week's open-source software seminar in Amman.
What About the Region?

IBM and Oracle, as well as European and local firms appear to have the enterprise Linux business tied up in the Middle East. Syria leads the region in government-sponsored projects, and it's believed that the majority of Linux and free software developers live in Syria. One of the seminar participants suggested that Syria became extremely active with open-source software because of the US-imposed economic sanctions initiated in 2004 and extended this year.

The founder of Arab Eyes, Mohammed Sameer, (see Figure 3) spoke twice at the conference. His participation has made Egypt one of the leading Linux communities. Sameer spoke on both days and participated in the panel discussions. On the second day, he addressed the issue of localization of Linux and open-source software.

Figure 3. Mohammed Sameer

Sameer made perhaps the most humorous and controversial comment of the conference when he said, "Here I am speaking English and discussing Arabization of Linux at a English-speaking conference in an Arab country. But of course, we are a small community, and we need all the help we can get, but then we're all Arabs and we don't get along, so this may take longer anyway." That comment began a 30-minute argument among many participants who either said Arabs work together or they don't.

Aside from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Linux is popular in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Morocco and Israel.

Creating Their Own ICT Industries

One of the main topics in regions such as the Middle East deals with using Linux to establish economic independence and to increase the gross domestic product (GDP). I focused on this topic during the conference in my keynote and my discussion of global adoption. The regional director of IBM also brought focus to this macro-economic issue in his discussions. Yet none of the presentations either day brought up the topic of purchasing power parity.

Simply put, when one adjusts prices for the GDP of an importing country, software costs more than one might think. On a slide from a conference in Syria, Philipp Schmidt demonstrated the cost of Microsoft Windows XP plus Office, using purchasing price parity. He showed three prices, including:

  • Street price (US) $560 US

  • Street price (South Africa) $952 US

  • Real price (South Africa) $7,514 US, taking into account national GDP

Note: Windows plus Office XP equivalent US$ cost calculation = $560 * (US GDP per capita/Country GDP per capita). Source: Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, First Monday.

In his article, Ghosh states:

ICTs are supposed to be an 'enabler' for growth in developing countries. Such growth cannot spread much beyond a very small elite if the basic enabling software infrastructure requires the investment of several months' worth of GDP on software license fees, repeatedly, every few years in an upgrade cycle beyond the control of users.

Although many countries outside the US have embraced Linux and open-source software, I wonder how many consider the real costs in terms of the number of days a person has to work to purchase Microsoft products. Jordan has enormous potential, but I don't believe its government actually understands what it costs the citizens in terms of their own production.

Jordanians on average earn $1,700 annually. Using averages doesn't really represent the economic picture, however. In actuality, 10% of the population has wealth, and 20% work at white-collar jobs and have good lives. The remaining 70% simply get by.

Of the 70% of Jordanians that fall into the "getting by" category, 80% have jobs and 20% live off the social security system. And Jordan happens to be one of the most prosperous countries in the region. As long as the country imports software, it misses out on the opportunity to help itself. It misses the opportunity to lead the region, to provide skilled workers for the region and to end the region's dependence on imported software.

Final Thoughts

If you are familiar with British history, you probably know about the English East India Company. Americans usually have little context for the significance of this once monopolistic trading body that became involved in politics and acted as an agent of British imperialism. In fact, the Boston Tea Party was an insurgency against the company. The old quote that says the "sun never sets on the English empire" really should say that the sun never sets on the holdings of the East India Company.

Why bring up a reference here to the English East India Company? Possibly because of the parallel to a remarkably politically involved company in the United States that seems content to use federal law enforcement agencies and foreign governments to enforce that company's policies. In fact, that company seems content to take from regions outside the US instead of helping them become more able.

Considering the amount of free software growing in the wild, I hope that countries such as Jordan will come to see for themselves that it makes no sense to import software. Although such a realization may be difficult to grasp, perhaps a walk through the markets in Jerash might provide an example of the difference between a Microsoft concept and the reality of becoming a self-reliant producer of ICT products. Because, until a country embraces free software and commits to becoming its own producer, it will continue in the cycle that creates two worlds--an industrial one and an impoverished one. In the 21st century, perhaps it's time for that cycle to come to an end.

Tom Adelstein is a Principal of Hiser + Adelstein, a consulting and operating company specializing in free and open-source software solutions and support. Tom is the co-author of the book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop, author of an upcoming book on Linux system administration and has written prolifically since 1985. Tom's business career began in public accounting where he first learned to program and develop software and later progressed to Wall Street, where he became the designated principal of a NYSE firm. He later returned to technology and has consulted and worked with start-ups as well leaders of the Fortune 500.



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Misafir's picture

Most countries in the Middle East have no issues with Christianity.

A Surprise in the Middle East

katiesan's picture

He later returned to technology and has consulted and worked with start-ups as well leaders of the Fortune 500. thanks.
mirc mirc
Chat chat

Real price - national GDP

Peter Schmidt's picture

This is a great idea to calculate the GDP into the US$-Price. I am living in Thailand and would wonder how the "real price" of that MS-Products are, when calculated this way. Greetings.

Anonymous's picture

A slight correction -- although Mohammed Sameer is currently a 'core' member (ie. managing director) within Arabeyes he was not a founder of the organization.

For background on Arabeyes do please consult the history page [1] and/or feel free to post to one of its many mailing-lists [2].



Nice words abot me ;-)

Mohammed Sameer's picture

I agree, I'm currently an Arabeyes core member.
However, It wasn't founded by me. I co-founded The Egyptian GNU/Linux user group,

Nice words about Sameer

tadelste's picture

Thank you for the correction for our article. Regardless of whether you founded it or not, it's a great play on words. The project is to Arabize Linux, Free and Open Source Software. To call it "Arab eyes" shows a wonderful sense of humor. Anyone who meets or attends Sameer's presentations will automatically want to use Linux. Because Sameer, you are one of the charismatic personalities and figures in the community. Thank you for your comments and your commitment.

-The Author

Some facts about Jordan

Sam Varghese's picture

Some corrections which others may have been too polite to point out:

"Jordanians, both Hashemites and Palestinians..." Huh?
Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad - the king's family is one. Not too many such people around in Jordan.
The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin.

The Christian population is closer to 10 per cent.

If people are well educated in Jordan, it is because the Palestinians have long realised that without a country of their own, they have to always compete in a foreign land - and being educated helps.

Jordanian annual income is closer to $US 4000.

As to the comments about Christianity, has the author forgotten that Christ was a Middle Easterner?

What an Idiot!

Jordanian's picture

So its cuz plaestinains dont have a home of their own that Jordan beacme educated? What a freking idiot!
Ya lost your country!
Jordanians are in their nature highly educated, and its not cuz of the palestinians. Ever since the invasion of britain of Jordan, Jordanians have widened their eyes to the prospect of education outside the middle east. There are thousands of Jordanians who have graduated from top notch universities in the US, UK, and from all over the world. So dont give me that crap that is cuz are REFUGEES! Look at the palestinains in syria and lebanon, the only reason you are educated is cuz we let you! The plaestinains in syria and lebanon are treated like crap in comparison!
So much for your perspective and paradigm!

commenting about your article..

Ahmed Tarawneh's picture

Dear Sir,

I am a Jordanian 24 years old male, living in Jordan since birth, I would like to correct some information for you.

Commenting about what your article, you wrote..
("Jordanians, both Hashemites and Palestinians..." Huh?
Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad - the king's family is one. Not too many such people around in Jordan.
The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin.)

Ok, Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, you are right their, those are the royal family.

Jordanians are East Bank Jordanians, Palestinians are from West Bank (Palestine).

Jordan, Linux and Microsoft!

NativeJordanian's picture

One correction first:
"The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin." Huh?
About 30% of Jordanians are originally from Palestine, and the others are native Jordanians and Bedwins.

Apart from that, this is a great Article. The use of Linux and the quality of IT professionals in Jordan are among the best in the area. And it is increasing thanks to the efforts of our beloved king, and the ministry of education in Jordan. Nevertheless, I hope that the ministry of communications and technology would give a little more attention to Linux (instead of pushing Microsoft everywhere) which will save the country a lot of everything!

I'm glad that you liked Jordan, and hopefully, a lot of people would change their idea about Jordan and the Middle East, and see how Muslims are living peacefully with non-Muslims. I wish I know why everyone thinks that it all about WAR when it comes to the Middle East?!

Best wishes and peace to all!

Nice meeting you

Isam Bayazidi's picture

It was nice meeting you Tom in Amman last week. I have few comments on your article:
- I doubt that there are a large number of Open Source developers from Syria. In Syria for example the ports for SSH, CVS, rsync, and telnet are not open. Making it almost impossible for a developer to exist, and to cooperate and work with an open source community.
- As far as I know, the percentage of christians in Jordan is 8-10%. Far from the 20% mentioned.

Again, it was great meeting you.

The Conference Agenda

tadelste's picture

Ahmad Humeid kindly posted the conference agenda on his blog 360East.

You can see it at

You might find this blog one you want to link. Ahmad impressed me in many ways. In fact, I read his blog for a weeks before going to Jordan. When I first saw him, I recognized him immediately and we had wonderful chats.

Jordan / Religion

Anonymous's picture

Most countries in the Middle East have no issues with Christianity. In fact, there is a very deep tradition of Christianity (and its acceptance) in the Middle East.

The facts

Anonymous's picture

I wondered if it could really be true that 20% of the Jordanian population was Christian. The CIA factbook sets the number to 6%.

Then I wondered if the income really was only $1,700 annually. The CIA factbook reports a purchasing power parity of $4,500 annually.

Then I wondered where you got your numbers from?

The facts

tadelste's picture


I'm working with information I found locally while in Jordan. I'm not certain that the CIA Fact Book should be our baseline and I did in fact consult it. You may have seen a reference to earlier stats in one of the links in the article. In speaking to a number of reliable sources, locally, the annual per cap income was represented as $1700. Also note than the exchange rate today reflects a low American dollar. One dollar buys 70 cents worth of Dinars.

In addition, I heard population ranges of between 8% and 20% for Christians. The figures came from reliable sources. I found five Roman Catholic Churches in Amman, for example. One gentleman with whom I spoke said his family had lived in Jordan for centuries and they were Christian. He believed the population could be as high as 20% and added that it really didn't matter because people generally did not care.

excuse me Tom, I think that y

Anonymous's picture

excuse me Tom, I think that you are somehow unreasonable with being surprised about Christians in Jordan and the middle east. After all Christianity was born in the region, and the most holy churches and Christian sites in in here. So why would it be hard to believe that "family had lived in Jordan for centuries and they were Christian". I am not talking about Jordan in particular, all countries in the middle east (exclude the gulf) have Christians as part of the culture. I wonder if you really visited jordan.

Reply to the excuse me comment.

tadelste's picture

Thank you for your comment. Community is such an important part of the Linux culture that I doubt it would exist without it. As an example, we would not have a chance to exchange thoughts if Linux and the community did not exist.

My mention of Christianity isn't an intention to triumph it but perhaps to counter act some perceptions which our media imposes. For example, before arriving in Jordan, I did extensive reading on the Internet and found a plethora of myths from travelers, conspiracy buffs and both left and right wing ideologists. Many Americans have no other source of information than what they read here.

It might be difficult for you to understand, but I read that no Christians lived in Arab countries several times. I wonder how many others have read the same thing and fear going to Jordan for such a reason?

In the context of the US reader, stressing that we are accepted and welcome in such a beautiful and friendly culture has some merit.

A recruiter for one of the French consultancies said that he has recruited many people from other countries to join his firm in Jordan. Yet, he said that he has had no luck attracting Americans. Could something be wrong with the perception? I think so.

No Offense Intended

jmsjnsn's picture

I thought that point was quite clear in your article--Americans have no need to fear visiting Jordan. It was also clear that you were trying to dispel the common misconception in the US that most everyone in the Middle East hates Americans and/or Christians.

This article is about the possibilities of increasing the prosperity of a nation by eliminating the M$ tax via FOSS, and that US citizens can be a part of the solution without fear.

It's silly to take offense when none was intended while skipping over the salient points of the article, IMHO.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Leslie's picture

In underdeveloped countries, a man's salary is usually able to purchase him food, shelter, clothing and a little else. If this salary is converted to US$, we would ask how is it the family can survive?

That said, we cannot see any European or North American software company scaling "the cost of their product in US$ versus US GDP" to the same ratio of cost in local currency versus the local GDP.

But we could see exploitation, in the sense that no country has exclusivity for brains, and that the relatively low salaries for a super-tech or super skilled programmer makes offshore developement a very attractive opportunity.

Today it means that for these societies, software has to be virtually free and reliable. Today, that solution is linux and a few other open source products.

Let's hope Jordan got the open source message

Ahmad Humeid's picture

Tom. Great article. I am very happy the event took place and that people like you and other international and regional speakers participated. More people should have attended the seminar, and I feel that our local IT industry has not fully understood the potential yet. Let's hope we can change that. I am posting my own article about the seminar on

Thanks again and we hope to see you in Jordan again.

Postscript to Ahmad Humeld

tadelste's picture

I don't mean to discuss you in the third person if I do. But, I consider as one of the best blogs on the Internet. As I discovered in speaking with you, you are an artist and of the highest calbre and certainly recognized by the work you do and your high calibre clients

I appreciated your insight locally and globally. You also mentioned you were looking for a PHP team to whom you could outsource work. I'm sure many such teams exist and need work, especially on the type of clients you service.

I look forward to seeing you again in Jordan too.