Dutch businessman to launch on-line Mideast encyclopedia

Antoine Drake tells 'Post' he expects to introduce the "Fenneq" initiative next summer.

internet finally 88 (photo credit: )
internet finally 88
(photo credit: )
A former Dutch journalist and businessman is creating a multilingual on-line encyclopedia of the Middle East that aims to inform while building bridges between Arab and European cultures. Antonie Dake, who is based in The Hague and visited The Jerusalem Post's offices on Wednesday, is expecting to introduce the "Fenneq" initiative to the public by next summer. The free encyclopedia - which will be translated into English, Arabic and, eventually, Farsi - will target residents of Arab countries between the ages of 18 and 25, he said. These "young people are conscious that their educative system is rather deficient," Dake, 80, said. "They would like to know more not only about the outside world, but also about their own country. That, in our mind, may be an important addition" for them. The Web site will offer basic information on individual countries as well as on region-wide thematic subjects, such as history and current affairs, water, energy, military affairs and demography. The editorial staff was made up of country and theme experts from the Middle East as well as others with a demonstrated academic background or experience in the region, such as journalists, he said. "It's my belief, being an ex-journalist, that information is itself a bridge to successive steps by people who make use of that information," Dake said. "It is something that goes back to our past and our philosophical history, call it enlightenment; you have to dig into the past in order to understand the present." Arab states, or the responsible elite, knew that the information on official Arab government Web sites was often distrusted by readers; thus "the elite in Arab countries see merit in something which is officially outside their grip, but nevertheless may give them information which they think is sufficiently interesting for their citizens," he said. Dake's job will not be easy. Fenneq will be competing with other on-line initiatives such as the British Encyclopedia of Islam, which unlike Fenneq charges a fee, and the Wikipedia site in Arabic, which receives about 11 million visitors a day. But the businessman argues that Wikipedia is not always reliable. "Often the information is not checked by editorial board sufficiently," he said. "We assume that we can do better." He also understands the complexity of the Middle East and the need to write "with a certain distance," he said. Dake, who worked as a print and television journalist and then in telecommunications, has spent €150,000 of his own money in the past year and expects to pay about the same in the next. He hopes the project will be able to attract sponsors in Europe and the Middle East so that it will become self-sufficient. He got the idea about a year ago, when he and friends were feeling "dejected" about developments in Iraq and Israel/the Palestinian territories and someone suggested he start some sort of information service, he said. A few months later he formulated the concept, which was still evolving, he said. Fenneq was named after a desert fox, usually spelled "fennec," with long ears, which "can pick up a lot of information because it needs to survive in very unpleasant surroundings," Dake said.