2015 in Review  

January 6, 2016

As we get ready to start a new year of activities for the IGMENA program, we would like to take a moment to thank all the members of the IGMENA community who made 2015 a successful year! According to IGMENA Project Manager Hanane Boujemi, "IGMENA programme continues to play a key role in engaging civic actors in the Internet governance dialogue regionally and globally. The programme also aims at creating tools to address Internet policy challenges which hinder human rights on the Internet in the Arab region." 

Our program staff are working hard to promote and support civil society working on Internet governance and policy issues in the MENA region. These activities would not be possible without the support and partnership of some great NGOs, program participants, and individual contributors. Here are just a few of the things we accomplished together in 2015.

Online course

This fall, IGMENA and DiploFoundation held another successful edition of the 8-week online Internet governance course, delivered with custom content and case studies from the MENA region. The course seeks to expand the number of civil society advocates well-versed in Internet governance topics by offering targeted material and lively interaction with classmates and skilled tutors. Participation in the course prepares advocates from the MENA region to engage in regional dialogues, such as the Arab Internet Governance Forum, as well as global discussions.

Participants from 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa came together to learn and share ideas about how Internet-related laws, policies, processes, and technical standards impact free expression, privacy, transparency, accountability, and access to information in the MENA region.
This year, we had more than 50 students successfully complete the course with the guidance and instruction of four excellent course tutors. Top students had an opportunity to join us as fellows at the Arab Internet Governance Forum to apply their knowledge, engage with other stakeholders, and act as civil society advocates.

According to Ginger Paque, Director of IG Programmes at DiploFoundation, “the online course showed what thoughtful, directed, knowledge sharing can do to generate real positive change in individual lives, and in global policy processes.”

Arab IGF

IGMENA brought 30 fellows, selected from top graduates for the online course, to participate in the 2015 Arab Internet Forum in Beirut, Lebanon, held on December 17 & 18 this year. “The combination of the Diplo-implemented Hivos IGMENA online course and Hivos Arab IGF fellowship has produced informed engagement which will impulse the effective participation of IGMENA in global IG processes, in particular, the newly-renewed Internet Governance Forum, starting right now, to prepare the best-ever IGF 2016,” said Ginger Paque of Diplo Foundation. The fellowship enables a new contingent of civil society to meaningfully engage with government and private sector stakeholders on equal footing at the Arab IGF.

Fellows joined tutors from the online course for a conference pre-event, and had the opportunity to engage with these mentors throughout the Arab IGF. The IGMENA pre-event was held on December 16, 2015 at the AltCity co-working space in Beirut. The pre-event set the scene for the conference and provided an introduction to the event for fellows. Fellows de-briefed with their tutors about the online course and discussed how to apply skills and knowledge from the course at the conference. Fellows also had an opportunity to meet in smaller groups to talk about specific topic areas that would be important to address at the Arab IGF: Digital Divide, Internet Access, Youth Empowerment, and Multistakeholderism.

Maharat Foundation and the Lebanon Chapter of Internet Society, in cooperation with Hivos and with the support of the Dutch Embassy in Lebanon, also organized a pre-event meeting to the Arab IGF. The Maharat event sought to review the partnerships between all Internet governance stakeholders and to find policies to make this partnership more effective in Lebanon, as well as across the MENA region.

IGMENA partner organization the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) organized an “Internet Policy Camp” for advocates leading up to the Arab IGF.  A dozen activists and human rights defenders held a two-day discussion on internet rights, with a particular focus on issues related to gender and the Internet. "APC is glad to have IGMENA's support to bring together civil society in the region to the MENA Internet Policy camp and Arab IGF. The camp is a valuable space for civil society to come together and strategise, exchange skills and build stronger networks in order to effectively face regional challenges in the field of internet governance."

IGMENA team members, fellows, tutors, and alumni had a strong presence at the Arab IGF this year, including through the organization of three workshops at the conference: Human Rights and Legislation Impacting Internet Users in the MENA Region; The Internet Policy Analyst: A Grassroots Policy Analysis Initiative; and The Challenges in Implementing Internet Policies in MENA. IGMENA also had a booth at the event featuring printed materials about the program and related activities. The booth was staffed by fellows and program alums, who answered questions about the program and shared their experiences in the course with other conference attendees.

Advocacy Strategies Workshop

On August 28th, 29th, and 30th the Hivos IGMENA program held its first ever workshop for civic actors in the MENA region on policy advocacy strategies, approaches, and channels. The workshop targeted alumni of IGMENA Internet governance training programs who are actively involved in policy advocacy related to the Internet issues in the MENA region or who are interested in starting an advocacy initiative. The purpose of the workshop was to build the skills of these individuals so that they can launch targeted and effective projects.

Through interactive activities and group work, participants developed skills to understand policy processes and decision-making, leverage research and evidence to build convincing policy arguments, engage with decision makers effectively, choose allies to support advocacy efforts, and develop and deliver messaging. Participants also began the process of planning for their own projects and campaigns with the support of the facilitators and the IGMENA team.

The workshop included 18 participants from 8 MENA countries and was facilitated by policy advocacy veterans Eoin Young and Lucian Ciolan from the International Center for Policy Advocacy.

Iran Cyber Dialogue

Hivos partner ASL 19 hosted the third annual Iran Cyber Dialogue (ICD) on March 5th and 6th in Valencia, Spain. “Our aim was to bring together Iranian and global actors to discuss the opportunities and challenges of increasing access to information online for Iranians,” said Ali Bangi, Director of ASL19, discussing the goal of the 2015 conference.

The conference convened government actors, civil society advocates, journalists, and technical experts to discuss the state of Iran with respect to technological infrastructure, Internet policy, and human rights. The first day of the conference included three panel discussions on international relations with a focus on Iran’s relationship with the West, the situation on the ground in Iran from a technical perspective, and trends in government controls and circumvention technologies. The second day of the conference was comprised of closed sessions designed to facilitate development of practical solutions and strategies.
 
Roundtables

IGMENA supported a series of roundtable discussions organized and run by partner organization 7iber in Amman, Jordan. The conversations provided in-depth coverage of several timely Internet governance topics in the MENA region, and created space for engagement and debate among advocates and other stakeholders.

Five roundtable discussions focused on regulation of media in the times of war, government surveillance practices and the role of whistleblowers, and using open source tools for network measurement. 7iber also published a series of blog posts on their website to provide further insight on these topics.
 
Hangouts

Following the success of online monthly debates in 2014, IGMENA continued to organize online discussion sessions this year on Internet governance issues in the MENA region. The goal of the debates is to encourage interaction among stakeholders around current issues in the field. The sessions seeks to meet the needs of Arab netizens, encouraging them to exchange points of view, share challenges, and develop new ideas. Live debates also help to grow, connect, and activate the IGMENA community. 

This year, debates brought together experts from across the region to discuss state security and freedom on expression online, privacy and data protection, cybersecurity and the digital economy, and Internet filtering and censorship. Hundreds of viewers either joined the discussions live or watched the recordings on YouTube.

IGMENA Farsi

To better meet the needs of the Farsi-speaking community, IGMENA launched a website offering news and updates in Farsi this year. The Farsi site offers a mix of content from the main IGMENA site translated into Farsi and original content in Farsi on Internet policy issues in Iran. This initiative follows the success of the Click Rights campaign, which also included a popular Farsi translation.

Internet Policy Analyst

This year, we launched a new section of igmena.org devoted to original weekly writing by civic actors from the MENA region. This project, called the Internet Policy Analyst (IPA), enables authors to share original reporting and analysis in English and Arabic with a focus on Internet policy, governance, and related human rights issues.  

The Internet Policy Analyst initiative is designed to meet the increasing demand for expertise on Internet governance and policy in the MENA region by providing a platform for the growing number of civic actors represented by legal experts, Internet researchers, activists, journalists and policy analysts well-versed in these topics. The (IPA) empowers authors as leaders to promote their ideas on a range of issues, including online freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, censorship and surveillance. 

By the end of 2015, the IPA published more than 100 articles from 80 authors from the MENA region!

Internet Legislation Atlas

The team continues to make progress on the Internet Legislation Atlas, an initiative in partnership with Article 19 to share and analyze laws governing the Internet. "The internet is a crucial resource for freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of assembly," explains Niels ten Oever, head of digital at Article 19. "To protect these rights online, it is of quintessential importance that the legal frameworks that might protect or hamper these rights are clearly mapped for users to claim their rights."

The project initially focuses on 7 countries in the MENA region: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Syria. The Atlas will be a web-based resource that examines the extent to which existing laws meet internationally recognized human rights standards.

The IGMENA team hosted a meeting of Internet Legislation Atlas (ILA) contributors at the AltCity co-working space in Beirut for a check-in and brainstorm session on 31 March and 1 April 2015, which brought together individuals and organizations working on ILA project and subject matter experts who could provide new perspectives and insights. The ILA website is now being built by ASL 19, an international research lab that develops technology and projects that bolster strong civil societies. The pilot website is planned to launch in early 2016, and will include information about laws in the region, as well as legal analysis, and opportunities to provide feedback on the project.
 

We look forward to sharing more details about plans for 2016 very soon. Keep an eye on the IGMENA blog and social media channels for updates! All the best to a happy and healthy start to the new year!