Yet in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, use of the word 'governance' continues to presume control
by governments rather than evoke a notion of protection for citizens and guaranteeing specific digital rights. Part of this mismatch of concepts and terminology is due to the fact that governments have been using technical surveillance and monitoring systems to curb online activities. Perceiving the Internet as a menace to their boundaries and sovereignty, some governments have sought to limit and control the Internet at the cost of violating the human rights of their citizens.
The popular uprisings in 2011 (commonly referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’) introduced a qualitative shift in IG because these events redefined not only the importance of the Internet, but also the relationship between the Arab citizens and their governments. Citizens became active stakeholders rather than passive observers of policy processes. Accordingly, people started demanding their human rights, including freedom of expression (FOE) and freedom of information (FOI) and holding their governments accountable for failure to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights.
In furtherance of presenting a clear strategic framework for addressing IG challenges from a regional perspective, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published the Arab Regional Roadmap for Internet Governance, stating: ‘In order to ensure appropriate participation and positioning of the Arab region in the Internet governance arena, Arab countries need to take far-reaching commitments and policy measures. There is thus a need for a shared regional vision of Internet governance and a shared understanding to aide these countries towards transforming the threats and challenges of the Internet into opportunities for development.’
In spite of not showing initial interest in the Arab Regional Roadmap for Internet Governance, following the Arab Spring, fourteen Arab countries came together in Beirut in 2012 for a conference and public consultation to establish the Arab Internet Governance Forum (Arab IGF). During this conference, participants defined the Arab IGF as a decentralised platform for inclusive policy consultations. By the end of the same year, the first Arab IGF was organised in Kuwait.