The 4th Arab Bloggers meeting held in Amman, Jordan with support from Hivos provided a space for MENA activists to share ideas about strategies and tactics relevant to digital activism. This year’s meeting focused on the new challenges the region is facing: increasing surveillance and censorship, exposure to prosecution and imprisonment and rights-restrictive legislation limiting free speech online.
In this changing context, the meeting aimed at showcasing MENA region community-based projects which are advancing civic engagement online, building collaborative knowledge around advocacy, digital security and policy issues, and discussing current political trends and challenges.
The Internet Policy track was facilitated by Mohamed Najem (SMEX), Jillian York (EFF) and Hanane Boujemi (Hivos). The discussion covered the history of the global Internet Governance (IG) process and the role of civil society in building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society with a common vision. The focus was on how policy can be influenced by advocacy and activism.
A particularly fruitful exercise involved mapping IG-related laws in the Arab region. The general impression was that most legal instruments or laws do not take into consideration the nature and architecture of the internet as a global open space, initially designed to ensure the free flow of information. The common practice in Arab countries is to apply (often restrictive) offline laws to the online environment.
During the mapping session, participants addressed four main elements relevant to IG in the Arab region in order to show similarities in language, improve advocacy and connect policies across the region:
1. Influential stake-holders and institutions (governments, ISPs, private companies, civil society, bloggers)
2.Laws regulating the Internet, both national-local (Constitutions, anti-terrorism laws, publication laws, access to information laws) and international documents (Art. 19 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19.2 International Convention on Civil and Political rights, state reservations to international instruments)
3. Local context: social, cultural, and religious values, security issues, local understanding of freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, etc.
4. Case studies on internet rights: Jordan, Egypt (national security as an argument for banning information), Lebanon (e-transactions law).
One important outcome was the need to develop the capacity of the Arab bloggers’ community to pinpoint loopholes in the legislation and increase their knowledge and tools to bring a more rights-based approach to the current legislation.
Another takeaway from the IG policy track is that the blogger community in the Arab region needs to increase the visibility of the policy challenges they face by tracking the legislation in place, defining responsible government entities, linking internet policy work in the region to deploy better advocacy strategies, and identifying the local cultural and religious factors which always play a major role in defining the set of rules to govern any space in the Arab region.
The 4th Arab Bloggers meeting was supported by the Hivos Expression and Engagement programme, which launched an Internet Governance in the MENA region programme in 2012 to improve knowledge on IG and internet policy. iGmena advocates for an open, secured, transparent and control-free Internet, where Freedom of Information and Expression are not threatened.