Here's a link you all might like....

From: Sellam Ismail <>
Date: Wed Mar 6 04:15:09 2002

On Tue, 5 Mar 2002, Ernest wrote:

> Hmmm. I wonder if the Middle East might be a fun new place to search
> for old computers? I wonder what kind of interesting systems might
> turn up there? Are they geek friendly? I really never even considered
> the idea of searching in the Middle East before. I'll bet that Israel
> has some vintage stuff, and maybe Egypt to. I'm sure that the far East
> has tons of cool old computers (along with all the scrap from the US.)

Let me try to lend some perspective.

The greater Middle East has been a poor region for a long time. During
the days when computers were first being developed, a majority of the
Middle East was still a relic of the stone age. Running water and
electricity in a home ("home" in this sense could also mean a structure
made of stones and mud) was still a luxury for the majority of the
population. When microcomputers hit the scenes, most ME nations were in
the beginning stages of modernization. Toilets that flushed (as opposed
to a cemented hole in the ground) were still a luxury, and traffic lights
in major metropolitan areas started to pop up.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, most ME nations were continuing
their efforts to modernize. Countries like Iraq and Iran were engaged in
a brutal war, Lebanon was under seige from Israel, Syria was (and still
is) in a declared state of war with Israel, and countries like Jordan and
Egypt were still developing. Technological advancement in these countries
was slow, if moving at all. Oil rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait
were much farther along due to their wealth and friendly relations with
the US.

Most of the citizenry of ME nations up through the 1980s were simple
peasants, concerned more with raising their crops and animals to subsist.
The city dwellers were perhaps more sophisticated and may have heard of
computers, but they would have still been far too expensive to own, if
they were even allowed to own them at all.

People of Egypt, after the country made peace with Israel in the
late 1970s, had a likelier chance of getting their hands on computers due
to embargoes being lifted and economic aid from the US. However, they
still would have been tremendously expensive.

When I last visited relatives in Syria in 1999, I was only a little
surprised to see PCs in most of the upper scale shops in town that sold
jewelry or western style clothing. However, computers were still out of
reach to the majority of the population.

I was very surprised to find even one clasic computer at all. One of my
uncles had an Atari 130XE that had been fitted with a ROM that replaced
the Latin font with an Arabic script font. Unfortunately, the machine
wasn't working anymore (some sort of RAM problem). I tried to fix it
there but lacked the necessary tools to troubleshoot it. So I took it
home with me with the promise of fixing it and returning it to him, which
I never got around to unfortunately. However, in the meantime, he
managed to buy a PC, which surprised me a bit. I don't know how much it
cost him, or anything about it, but I imagine it runs some form of Windows
9x and has Arabic as the default system font. As an aside, this uncle was
one of the first people in Syria in the 1960s to be sent to France to
receive computer training, so his interest in computers is strong.

Syria is still in the early stages of technological modernization. The
current president, Bashaar Assad, is western educated (UK) and is very
progressive. He's currently trying to bring the Internet to Syria (they
have a link up but it's only open to government employees currently).
Before he succeeded his father, he formed a "computer society" inside
Syria, so his interest in computers is evident.

As everyone is most likely aware, the problem with bringing the internet
into ME countries is that the governments want to try to control the
content, for various political and social reasons (political dissent,
porn, etc.) As we all know, try as they might, they won't be able to
control it, so the way I see it, their options are either to just open it
up and let everyone benefit from the largest source of knowledge ever
created, thereby enriching their people and contributing to their
prosperity, or close it off entirely and continue to remain backwards.

In summary, finding classic computers in any Middle Eastern country would
be a mostly futile endeavor. Perhaps in countries that have been
historically more wealthy, such as the Gulf states, you might have more
luck, but government policies may have restricted the ownership of
computers by individuals. You certainly won't find any machines from
home grown companies, and I would be completely dumbfounded if a homebrew
machine turned up.

Israel is a different story altogether, being that it has basically been
the 52nd US State for the past 50 years (Canada is the 51st :)

In 1985 my sister went to Syria to visit relatives and I sent my uncle a
letter that I had typed up on my dinky Aquarius computer with a 40-column
thermal printer. My sister later told me that my uncle was angry that I
didn't take the time to write the letter by hand. I imagine he thought
the computer printout was too impersonal :)

Sellam Ismail Vintage Computer Festival
International Man of Intrigue and Danger

 * Old computing resources for business and academia at *
Received on Wed Mar 06 2002 - 04:15:09 GMT

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