FeaturesSpecial topic: HCI in the Arab world

XXVI.3 May - June 2019
Page: 41
Digital Citation

Special topic: HCI in the Arab world - introduction

Shaimaa Lazem, Ebtisam Alabdulqader, Mohamed Khamis

back to top  HCI in the Arab World

The Arab world consists of 22 countries stretched across two continents (Asia and Africa), making it one of the world's most influential territories. Besides sharing the same official language, Arab countries share a strong history dominated by the early colonialism era. Cultural values vary from conservative (e.g., Saudi Arabia) to modern and more secular (e.g., Lebanon); the Arab countries also include non-Arab ethnic groups. The ArabHCI initiative (https://arabhci.org) is a grassroots community of Arab and non-Arab HCI researchers aimed primarily at promoting and recognizing HCI research and education in the Arab world. The initiative was inaugurated at a SIG meeting at CHI 2017 [1] and has grown through a series of following events hosted at DIS 2017 [2], CHI 2018 [3], and CHI 2019 [4]. To achieve the overarching goals of promoting and recognizing HCI research and education in the Arab world, the community aims to tackle three intertwined challenges: Arab representation inside and by the global HCI community, capacity building of local Arab HCI researchers, and fostering collaboration with international researchers interested in the Arab context.


One of the main motivations for creating the ArabHCI community was the superficial representation of the socioeconomic and political nuances of the region in the research that addressed the Arab Spring and Arab refugees [1]. Indeed, we felt that an insider understanding of the context was not fully leveraged. We further lamented that the region came to the fore in HCI research only when events of global interest took place in Arab countries, despite the tremendous growth in technology adoption [1]. Why had Arab perspectives not been addressed during the design of technologies? The misrepresentation of Arabs was frustrating for many Arab researchers, especially with the rise of Islamophobia, and accordingly was dominating some of the community's early discussions. One of the submissions we received to our workshop at DIS 2017 was titled "Arabs Are Not Refugees Nor Terrorists"—the point being, there is more to the region than such stereotypes.

As the old Egyptian proverb says, "It is all the same if you know nothing." And if you do not know enough about Arabs, you eventually resort to oversimplification and cliché. Using the lens of intersectionality, ArabHCI therefore strives to demonstrate the intracategorical complexity of "Arabs" in HCI research [5]. Further, we support the calls for a clear reporting of the Arab context and the demographics of Arab users, and encourage Arab and non-Arab researchers to be open and self-reflective on their own biases [5,6].

ArabHCI organizes workshops at international HCI conferences to address both capacity building and international collaboration challenges. The workshops offer platforms for Arab and non-Arab HCI researchers alike to present and discuss their work in the region. It is our belief that mutual learning between the global HCI and the Arab HCI researchers will be fostered through an encounter with the so-called other. The workshops provide a space to voice the concerns and aspirations of Arab users and local designers in technology design. We further encourage examining the alignment or lack thereof of Western HCI methods with Arab cultural values and realities. The discussions in last year's workshop at CHI 2018 [3] led to this Special Topic, which highlights the challenges in enacting and appropriating HCI participatory methods in Arab contexts.

We encourage examining the alignment or lack thereof of Western HCI methods with Arab cultural values and realities.

The article by Soud Nassir and his colleagues discusses stories by four Saudi researchers demonstrating the challenges they faced in using qualitative research methods with Saudi participants, who are particularly conscious about their privacy. One of their many interesting studies illustrates how a consent-form clause from a Western ethics committee, requiring the signature of a female participant's male guardian, was perceived by Saudi participants as sexist. The article explores the subtlety of local sensitivities and the appropriation of methods to embrace contextual challenges.

Max Krüger and his colleagues ask what constitutes participation in intercultural settings, where the shadows of colonial legacy are still alive. They offer reflections on three case studies with an indigenous community of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and with refugees in Lebanon and Germany. They propose a checklist of questions that are worthy of pondering by participatory design researchers. They further invite researchers to be mindful of the conditions they bring to the context, and to use participatory strategies to create conditions for understanding participants' feelings.

Galal Galal-Edeen and his colleagues present the challenges of conducting HCI research in Egypt, where the role of HCI is not well understood by academia and industry. They highlight the obstacles they faced in accessing data, recruiting participants, and engaging them in open dialogues. They offer procedural suggestions for prior fieldwork planning in Egypt or similar uncharted HCI territories.

This Special Topic sheds light on novel challenges of HCI research in the Arab world, discusses their significance, and highlights ways to address them as well as directions for further research in this area.

back to top  References

1. Alabdulqader, E., Abokhodair, N., and Lazem, S. Human-computer interaction across the Arab world. Proc. of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2017, 1356–1359; https://doi.org/10.1145/3027063.3049280

2. Alabdulqader, E., Abokhodair, N., and Lazem, S. Designing for the Arab world. Proc. of the 2017 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems. ACM, New York, 2017, 348–351; https://doi.org/10.1145/3064857.3064860

3. Alabdulqader, E., Lazem, S., Khamis, M., and Dray, S.M. Exploring participatory design methods to engage with Arab communities. Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2018, Paper W27; https://doi.org/10.1145/3170427.3170623

4. Alabdulqader, E., Lazem, S., Nassir, S., Saleh, M., Armoush, S., and Dray, S. With an eye to the future: HCI practice and research in the Arab world. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts. ACM, New York, 2019; https://doi.org/10.1145/3290607.3299006

5. Schlesinger, A., Edwards, W.K., and Grinter, R.E. Intersectional HCI: Engaging identity through gender, race, and class. Proc. of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2017, 5412–5427; https://doi.org/10.1145/3025453.3025766

6. Erete, S., Israni, A., and Dillahunt, T. An intersectional approach to designing in the margins. Interactions 25, 3 (May–June 2018), 66–69; https://doi.org/10.1145/3194349

back to top  Authors

Shaimaa Lazem is an Egyptian academic. Her research interests include HCI education, participatory design, and decolonizing HCI. She was awarded the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to support digital self-documentation of intangible cultural heritage. She is the co-founder of ArabHCI.org. slazem@srtacity.sci.eg

Ebtisam Alabdulqader is a Ph.D. researcher at Open Lab at Newcastle University and a lecturer in information technology at King Saud University. Her current research focuses on social computing, accessibility, and mHealth. She is the founder of the ArabHCI.org community and the vice chair of ACM SIGCHI Riyadh Chapter in Saudi Arabia (SaudiCHI). ebtisam@ccis.edu.sa

Mohamed Khamis is a lecturer (assistant professor) at the University of Glasgow. His research interests are at the intersection of HCI and security. He received his Ph.D. from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) in Germany. He has published more than 50 papers in HCI. He serves as a PC member for CHI, and general co-chair for PerDis 2019. Mohamed.Khamis@glasgow.ac.uk

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