Arab Internet Governance Forum 2015: What Remains?

2015 was a busy year for Internet governance. It was packed with events, meetings and considerably important decisions related to the field, and December was not an exception.

While everyone was attentively following WSIS+10 High-Level Meeting related activities and discussions, Beirut hosted the Arab Internet Governance Forum (Arab IGF) from the 16th to the 18th of December (pre-event included) under the theme “Internet Economy for Sustainable Development”.

This year’s forum was not only the fourth Arab IGF but also the last one in the series of the first mandate (2012-2015). Over one thousand persons registered for the forum and more than 600 participants ended up physically attending the event. Not to forget the remote participation and the very active use of the #AIGF2015 hashtag to comment report or criticize the thoughts shared during the panels and workshops.

The Ogero Telecom twitter account mentioned that “51% of the tweeters are from female participants while only 49% are from male participants”. This came after a quiet repetitive remark by the attendees about the non-respect of gender balance in the choice of the panels’ speakers. The same remark was also addressed concerning the absence of civil society and youth representatives in the panels despite their remarkable presence as participants.

When it comes to the North African participation, Egypt and especially Tunisia were well represented but that was not the case for countries like Mauritania or Algeria. This leads us to the importance of establishing and networking national IGFs, a point that was raised many times as I remember during the African IGF last September and also mentioned during this Arab IGF. However, the importance of national IGFs doesn’t only reside in the well representation of the country’s different multi-stakeholders in such meetings but also in defining local priorities to be followed with regional prioritization as well.

Along with the continuous international tracks in relation to internet governance and related public policies, the Arab countries and more broadly all developing countries have important and sometimes different points to be raised. However, to raise those priorities, cooperative initiatives and continuous involvement need to be enhanced which is unfortunately not being done effectively. During the “International Internet Related Public Policies”, Mr. Fahd Batayneh, ICANN Engagement Manager in the Middle East, mentioned that few Arab countries (particularly Egypt) are continuously participating in ICANN meetings.

Other than International Public Policies, 3 other sub-themes where addressed which are:

  • Cyber Security and Trust
  • Access & Infrastructure
  • Human and Social Dimensions of Internet.

A plenary session was dedicated to each sub-theme.

Accidentally, or maybe not, the first plenary session just after the opening was under the theme “Cyber Security and Trust”. However, any participant had surely remarked that no matter what session he/she attended the cyber-security and threats related comments found their way to be raised one more time. The discussion focused on two main levels. First and definitely not surprisingly, the dilemma of fighting terrorism and protecting human rights was tackled. The session’s chairman Mr. Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisian Post, clearly said that

"We need to be clear about human rights when discussing cyber-security".

On a second level, more technical aspects were raised as well as the importance of capacity building and enhancing the community awareness in order to build trust between different stakeholders and more importantly local end-users. According to Mr. Pierre Bonis, Deputy CEO of AFNIC – France,

“When it comes to domain names, trust and security are easier to build when we use local domains”.

Not to forget that the Arabic online content does not exceed 1%. The internet multilingualism and the region’s contribution to the digital world in general were addressed in the Human and Social Dimension of the Internet session.

"We always highlight the risks and threats not the opportunities"

That’s what Moez Chakchouk said when the cyber-security threats were continuously mentioned during this session.
And this is eventually one of the reasons why no well-known e-service company was initiated from the region.

But let’s not forget, the internet access and the related infrastructure development role in moving the digital economy in the region. Maximizing the developmental benefits of the internet could be done when the investment in infrastructure and the connectivity cost challenges are seriously tackled. And let’s agree that “Zero rating is not an access to internet” as Pierre Bonis said in his intervention.

Arab IGF… A Way Forward

The closing session of the #AIGF2015 coincided with the 10-year renewal of the global IGF and the announcement of the #AIGF2020 initiative to evaluate the previous mandate and improve the next #ArabIGF phase. The initiative mainly consists on establishing a multi-stakeholder working group that will conduct community consultations, similar to those conducted for the global IGF. The working group will have mainly four focus points:

  • Evaluating the last mandate
  • Considering the forum’s impact on internet governance policies in the region
  • Addressing the faced challenges
  • Delivering recommendations

Coming back to the initial idea of Internet Governance Forums as a dialogue platform between different stakeholders to facilitate discussion on public internet policy issues, this year Arab IGF marked a success in terms of bringing to the table urgent debates and clearly showing both ambitious efforts and roadblocks, a.k.a negative mindsets.

Cover Image: Pigeons' Rock, Raouché, Beyrouth, Lebanon. 20111130 | Gilbert Sopakuwa