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Wed 25 Apr 2007 02:35 PM

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Microsoft CEO: Gulf's IT market 'the fastest growing globally'

Steve Ballmer's statement comes as the US giant signs a major deal with Qatar.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today signed a major technology deal with the Qatari government, and claimed that the IT market in the Arab world was 'the fastest growing globally', overtaking both India and China.

Ballmer refused to comment on how much Microsoft is investing in Qatar but called it a 'significant effort'. The move is aimed at transforming the emirate into the leading IT nation in the Gulf.

"We have 20 people here in Qatar [...] we have intellectual property and we are going to take a significant percentage of our effort and leverage a lot of software," said Ballmer.

"This is not a capital investment; it is a need of the Qatari government with a focus on skills and knowledge transfer as early as possible and that's consistent with our global strategy."

Ballmer added that he had had 'some amazing discussions' and that the 'potential and possibilities in [Qatar] are incredible'.

"I have been very struck with the focus people have here in Qatar. They want to be at the leading edge in government services, in society and business."

Microsoft's agreement was struck with ictQatar, the policy making and regulatory body for information and communication technology (ICT) in Qatar.

The body is 'the most significant in the GCC', according to Ballmer, and the agreement is in line with the emirate's national technology strategy that aims to transform Qatar into a successful knowledge-based economy and diversify its interests away from oil and gas.

ICT currently accounts for a mere 0.6% of the country's GDP. However, Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, secretary general of ictQatar, told Arabian Business that this would rise 'significantly' in the next 12 months with 'major concrete announcements' materialising in June.

"The first three months will be crucial," Ali Faramawy, Microsoft's vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa told Arabian Business.

The deal will cover education, healthcare and e-government with Microsoft "providing ictQatar with advice, assistance and tangible initiatives" in the use of technology, research and development, e-programmes and to enhance the learning experience through the use of IT, "building capacity to facilitate the creation of a digitally connected society," a statement read.

Ballmer, on his first visit to Doha and his first trip to the Middle East in over two years added that today's signing was a 'strategic partnership' and 'just the first step of a broader relationship'.

"We are very focused on making concrete progress and we will. This partnership has many pieces to it. We will focus on e-government, e-education, and e-health, provide skills and new ways of learning first in schools, and then spreading to the workforce and teach computer skills and e-literacy to the youth of Qatar and its government."

Dr Hessa added that the partnership with Microsoft would open up 'infinite possibilities' and provide the country and its people and businesses with 'boundless potential'.

Ballmer arrived at midnight last night, met the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and other dignitaries and is in Kuwait this afternoon to inaugurate a Microsoft innovation centre (MIC) in conjunction with the National Technology Enterprises Company (NTEC).

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