Internet Policy Watch in the MENA Region  

by SalFalko
Despite the paramount role the internet has recently played during the Arab Spring, Internet regulation in most Arab countries can be still characterised as ambiguous and vaguely-worded. On the other hand, there is an everlasting global discourse on whether to draft new legislations for human rights on the Internet or to adopt the already existing laws. In all cases, there is a need to have a fair clear set of laws that respect the universal principles of human rights.

Egypt has laws restricting freedom of publication and the freedom of expression is subject to many restrictions in the penal code and the communication code. Though Jordan was the first Arab country to endorse a law on freedom of information, this law was passed without public consultation. Recently the Jordanian government started blocking citizen media websites which do not have an authorisation according to the Press and Publication Law. Tunisia has anti-terrorism legislation which undermines human rights and hinders freedom of expression. In Iran, an amendment was made to the press law to increase the control of the government on the Internet; let alone the stricter general law of the penal code. Freedom of expression bill and the information crimes bill in Iraq present potential detrimental consequences for journalists and bloggers. As for Syria, since the country is under Emergency Laws, freedom of expression and freedom of information are currently severely restricted.

Internet freedom is de facto and de jure either not codified into laws or regulated in legislation with legal loopholes that require revision and consultation with different stakeholders in most Arab countries. In fact, when most of these governments draft laws, they tend to circumvent their citizens’ human rights (freedom of expression, freedom of information, privacy and data protection) focusing only on security threats and national interest as a top priorities.
Hivos is launching Internet Policy Watch through its programme on Internet Governance in the MENA Region in collaboration with Social Media Exchange (SMEX) along with other national organisations and experts from the region.

The project will be bringing together researchers from the Arab region as well as different stakeholders to map and review Internet laws in the MENA region. The countries of focus will be Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia with the intention to cover other countries at later stage. The project will highlight digital rights laws as follow:

  • Copyrights
  • Intellectual Property Rights
  • Privacy
  • Censorship and Freedom of Expression Online
  • E-transactions
  • Cybercrime