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‘Love of knowledge’: Volunteers toil to populate Arabic Wikipedia

Published: Updated:

Driven by pride in their language and heritage, a growing network of volunteers is helping expand Arabic language content on Wikipedia, raising the number of articles above 1 million.

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Launched in 2003, Arabic Wikipedia has seen growth accelerate in recent years, with the number of articles more than doubling since 2015 thanks to enthusiastic volunteers across the Arab world.

“We are volunteers for the love of the Arabic language, for the love of our culture, for the love of our countries for the love of knowledge in general,” said Emna Mizouni, a contributor from Tunisia who also runs an association working on heritage.

In 2020, more than 15,000 people made about 1.6 million edits to the online encyclopedia’s Arabic content, creating more than 77,000 new entries. Registered users grew by 44 percent to 136,000.

“They are helping each other to create more knowledge,” said Jack Rabah, a regional manager at the Wikimedia Foundation, which supports writers and editors with software, project funding and partnerships that help boost content.

Arabic was the 10th most-viewed language on Wikipedia for COVID-19 related content, though critics say the site lacks coverage of science and technology in Arabic - a lacuna some volunteers say they are working to remedy.

Anass Sedrati, a 31-year-old Moroccan telecoms engineer working and studying in Sweden, spends nearly two hours daily writing new articles, translating and coordinating with other volunteers.

“There are people who may not have had an opportunity, for example, to finish their schooling and to buy books,” he said.

“We can consider this as an attempt to provide knowledge to those who have not had the same opportunities as us.”

The 1 million articles in Arabic are just a fraction of the nearly 55 million across different languages on Wikipedia. Volunteers say there is room for more growth.

“The Arab world can write more, and we must have an article on everything that exists and on everything related to our life,” said Sarmad Yaseen, a 40-year-old volunteer from Iraq who is also a telecoms engineer.

“We have an ancient civilisation, we have writers, we have poets, we have creative people in all fields.”

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