How Internet policies are managed has been a crucial question since the beginning of the Internet era. To maintain the Internet’s openness and resilient innovative platform and to ensure its unfettered, decentralized “Network of networks” structure, stakeholders have realized that there is no way for it to be governed by a classical “top-down” decision-making style.
Instead, power must be decentralized, simulating the Internet’s multilayer/multi-partner pattern, gathering all stakeholders to have their say on an equal footing. Hence, “multi-stakeholder decision-making” has been adopted to implement solutions and promote to the sustainable evolution of the Internet, rather than the common “intergovernmental” decision-making style.
According to Lawrence E. Strickling, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, and NTIA1 Administrator, "the multi-stakeholder process … involves the full involvement of all stakeholders, consensus-based decision-making, and operating in an open, transparent, and accountable manner."
From a regional perspective, the multi-stakeholder decision-making model is not effectively implemented in MENA countries, except for the relatively mature post-revolution experience in Tunisia, and if we examine the current situation of Internet governance (IG) in Iraq – to construct a local view – we find it even worse, concerning all basic constituents of IG-relevant issues which curb the proper employment of the desired bottom-up decision making style.To investigate the challenges, we have to highlight the current situation in Iraq.
Internet regulation, policy-making, and legal environment
The Commission of Media and Communications (CMC)2 was founded in 2004 as an independent and impartial authority not associated with any governmental entity, aimed to regulate, reform, and develop the media and communications sector and bring it into compliance with international standards.
Although the Iraqi government is the main responsible entity for policy adoption and legislation regarding communications, the role of CMC is to regulate and revise governmental actions in relation to this sector.By its definition relative to the CMC, the Iraqi constitution guarantees the separation and independence of this commission from any governmental domination in terms of decision-making and accountability.
However, there is a stark disparity between what is guaranteed by the Constitution and what’s really happening on the ground, as the roles of the CMC and Iraqi government are quite overlapping and the leaders of the CMC are still appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Hence, the CMC often reflects the government’s interest instead of being competitive and transparent.
Concerning legislation, Internet-related policies have to be drafted by the Ministry of Communication and reviewed and approved by Iraqi Council of Representatives, which is usually a rate-limiting step in terms of adoption, creating a huge gap in policies and legislation. An example of that is the “Privatization of the Ministry of Communication” Law that was drafted in 2008, and is still under debates and not approved yet. Such top-down regulation clearly undermines authentic participation of other stakeholders in the policy-making process.
Furthermore, there is not enough enticement for the private sector to invest in Iraq because of poor infrastructure and electricity supply and because of the security and political crisis. As a result, this eliminates a significant power pole in policy making and prevents market competition.
And in spite of the role of civil activists in organizing many online and offline campaigns that advocate for protection of human rights application and enforcement of the Constitution, along with their significant role in rejecting and revoking the controversial “Cyber-Crime Law”3 until the present, the role of civil society is still disabled or even absent, or if present it may disguise the government’s interests and desires.
The real multi-stakeholder model is not about gathering all stakeholders around a round table; it is about decentralizing power and accentuating a collaborative and participatory mode of decision-making, with the inclusion of trust and transparency as the essential elements in the process.
Challenges and Limitations:
As evident from the above discussion, we can conclude the main challenges in Iraq to be:
Longstanding security crisis, including the anti-ISIS/terrorism war, which has prevented both the government and the public from paying enough attention to IG issues.
Political crisis, poor electricity supply, and high corruption index, which all still have their negative impact on Internet access and curb the promotion of foreign investment.Lack of independence and impartial neutral regulatory panels for the Commission of Media and Communications (CMC).
Political tensions and biased, the sectarian appointment of policymakers, rather than appointments based on competencies and experience, which creates a high level of distrust between citizens and qualified experts on the one hand and government on the other hand, having a destructive effect on the policy-making process.Lack of IT experts and qualified personnel due to security concerns and immigration, causing a lack of professional vision.
The largest ISP operator in Iraq is the State Company for Internet Services (SCIS), a company owned by the Ministry of Communications. This results in the lack of authentic and fair ISP competition or development of public-private partnerships.
No real participation of civil society and other stakeholders in the policy-making process.
Moreover, we cannot bypass the legacy of the longstanding intergovernmental decision-making style. The adoption of the multi-stakeholder approach results in power shifts and clashes between the traditional and relatively new, unfamiliar approaches. This sparks questions about accountability and legitimacy of stakeholders and the appropriate entities for decision-making under rigid, long-established bureaucracies.
1 National Information and Telecommunication Agency https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Telecommunications_and_Information_Administration
3 Iraq’s Information Crimes Law - Human Rights Watch.