Roundtable Discussion: Internet Governance in MENA – Beyond the Clichés  

Photo of workshop by IGMENA staff
An overview by Shahinaz Hassan Abo El Seoud
11 December 2014
Note: This report is posted here as part of IGMENA's commitment to share the knowledge gained by participants of the Hivos Fellowship Programme with the broader IGMENA community.
Date: 25 November 2014

Location: Movenpick Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon

Chair: Hanane Boujemi, Internet Governance MENA programme manager, HIVOS, Netherlands

Moderator: Rafik Dammak, NTT communications, Tunisia

Participants: All HIVOS fellows to the Arab IGF from a variety of backgrounds, representing social society, private sector, bloggers and governments. The majority of audience was from Yemen and Egypt. The only non-Arab fellow was from Iran.

Session activities started by everyone introducing themselves, mentioning personal funny comments and their notes and comments about the capacity building pre-event sessions on IG. Comments mentioned that the pre-event day wasn’t a real training but rather general presentations that prevented positive interactions with attendants.

Session questions included: How can we apply the multistakeholderism model in our region? How might we overcome challenges at the national level and make the model effective? What about citizen participation and the effectiveness of civil society in IG? How can civil society in MENA get involved at the global level?

Multistakeholderism took place as the core point of discussion among different nationalities, as it is considered the main solution to governmental violations of human rights, namely access to information and freedom of expression. The main recommendation was emphasizing the involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making processes, including government, business sector, civil society, technical community, academia, and citizens. Governments should protect citizens but at the same time they shouldn’t violate human rights as role of government should be managed to benefit citizens and protect them rather than adding more obstacles.

NGOs play a major role in preserving human rights. There is no owner of the Internet, only several institutions: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Different forums relating to IG try to keep balance among countries around the world regarding Internet access rights. In the MENA region, extremes are found, as there are high barriers to Internet access in Iran and Syria, while Tunisia is considered the best case. This is why many movements and steps were taken by NGOs and different forums relating to IG in the latest Arab IGF in Lebanon in November 2014.

Here we find it useful to involve all related parties including NGOs, citizens, and people in the governmental process when discussing public policies of IG to help in creating a bottom-up, consensus-driven IG to keep away terrorists attacks that threatens all Internet users around the world. Moreover, there should be cooperation among users, the business sector, and governments. 

Lack of Internet infrastructure and slow or discrete connections are major problems facing the MENA region and Iran as well. Although the service is imperfect, people should stay dealing with it and utilizing the available resources from one side and keep pushing to have better service from the other side.

Freedom of information laws are considered legal tools for pressure to have good Internet service. Constructing laws should aim at assuring transparency and equality in providing services in a way that keeps the government role in keeping its systems but considering different stakeholders’ rights in information access and expression. Finally, there are problems that arise when laws are passed, but they are not enforced evenly or not enforced at all.

Shahinaz Hassan Abo El Seoud was a fellow selected by Hivos to represent civil society from the MENA region at Arab IGF 2014.