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Correct Identity Verification of Arabic Nationals - Why Translation is not Enough
1 year ago by Christina Massaad

Correct Identity Verification of Arabic Nationals - Why Translation is not Enough

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We’ve all seen the horror stories coming out of the Syrian conflict - people being subjected to terrifying ordeals and forced to flee for their lives. Sometimes their homes are destroyed, other times their family members or neighbours are murdered and the last thing on their mind at the point of leaving would be to bring their identity documentation with them. After all, when they escape from home, they are most likely running to the next street, town or village to take refuge with family or friends but as we know too well - they may not find any place of safety until they leave Syria altogether and many of them will never have left their own country before; so they would have had no reason to ever have owned a passport. Most unfortunately, their situation is not new. This has happened before throughout the world`s history to people of many differing races and religions and this is why our global environment is gradually becoming more and more multi-cultural - nowhere more evident than in developed countries where those sensible people in need of food, shelter, safety, health care, security and work would naturally migrate towards if they are unable to go home. So, the governments in those more peaceful countries are left with the difficult task of verifying the identity of these people and allowing them to become temporary or permanent citizens - perhaps to work, open bank accounts, obtain medical care or gain access to social services and accommodation - ensuring that they are duly registered with a unique identity so that they cannot easily carry out fraudulent or criminal activities and can be traced if necessary.


The problem with Arabic surnames in particular is that in the Arabic language they can only usually be spelled in only one way, but when translated there could be several possibilities. I will give you an example of how easy it would be for one person to create multiple identities using Cedar Rose CEO's name, which is Lebanese, when translated into Latin characters. This is how it is written on his passport - in English letters:


In Arabic letters which as you probably know read from right to left, there are far less letters. So, if it were translated letter for letter, it would read like this, which makes no sense at all:

D-A-S-M    N-O-T-N-A

In the most commonly used online translation tool, it would come out as "Anton Massad" therefore missing a letter or two and giving him an entirely new identity. In Arabic, Antoun is spelled with 5 letters. It can be transliterated or translated as Antoun, Antony, Anthony, Antoni, Antoine or Anton. Massaad is spelled with just 4 Arabic letters. Massaad can also be spelled Masaad, Massad, Masad, Mas`aad, Masard, Massard and so on. The name on Antoun’s Lebanese passport in Latin characters would depend on how the clerk at the passport office in Lebanon decided to translate it on that particular day and whether they had been French educated or English educated. There could therefore be at least 36 different ways to spell his name in Latin characters and he could have 36 different identity documents, for example, all spelled differently in English but still quite correct when translated back into Arabic. In fact, just today I saw two brothers on Linked In who have completely different Latin translations of their Arabic surname even though they both reside in the same town in Lebanon. One has 7 letters and one has 9, but in Arabic text their name has just five letters. If they moved to a country which uses the Latin alphabet, their names would seem totally unrelated.

So, what can be done to ensure correct identification of individuals with Arabic names?

The official language in the Middle East is Arabic and therefore all incorporation and identity documentation is in Arabic. By using Arabic characters there is only one possible spelling which is why the first place to start checking the identity of an Arab individual or company is on an Arabic database with Arabic characters by researchers who speak both Arabic and English (and preferably French), fluently.  Only then, can you be sure you have the right person to start investigating! At Cedar Rose, we have exactly those resources. We have created an entire dictionary which gives almost all possible English and French translations and transliterations of a person’s or a company’s name just by typing in the Arabic name - so that all combinations will find a match. Likewise, if the Latin translation of the name is typed in, the one possible Arabic name will be revealed along with all other possible Latin spellings. We have also cross-referenced this to our company data - held on over 1 million companies in the MENA region so that it ties to directorships and shareholdings, senior management positions, groups of companies, affiliated companies, registration numbers and so on. That is why our Due Diligence and Database services are second to none for the MENA region. Our researchers are highly trained, well qualified and they are local language speakers with excellent French and English too.  We can even conduct Global Compliance Checks on all possible translations of Arabic names.

Cedar Rose has developed in-house technology capable of system to system integration using API/ web services and we can transact using XML (Extensible Mark-Up Language). If you would like to know more, please contact us today.

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*****The above article and the information contained within is intended for public discussion and informative purposes only. It is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice***** 

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