As I flew home from Algiers after the second Arab Internet Governance Forum at the beginning of October, I reflected on how much progress we have made. In just two short years, we have gone from informal discussions to the more structured Beirut Consultation to the inaugural Arab IGF in Kuwait last year. Now, at the conclusion of our second such gathering, I see plenty of challenges but also plenty of advancement.
I was particularly impressed with how open discussions were throughout the meeting. In the main sessions and in workshops alike, exchanges were cordial and engaged, even at moments of disagreement and tension. We witnessed one of these moments at the main session on openness and content, where panelists talked to their own experiences in relation to Internet policies in a number of Arab countries. In my view, this was the best session of the whole meeting, not only for the excellent moderation and the knowledge of the speakers, but also for spurring constructive debate. This is what the IGF is about.
Unlike the global IGF where the variance in views usually reflects the diversity of stakeholders interacting, at the Arab IGF it reflects the generational gap between the “native” and “non-native” Internet users. One young participant (Wafa Ben Hassine) summed it up in one tweet: “The generational gap going on at the Arab IGF is staggering. Never thought age would have such a profound impact on policy views.”
In one workshop, participants discussed ICANN’s Middle East engagement strategy, examined its main building blocks, and learned about work underway in relation to its implementation. During the session, the launch of the Task Force on Arabic script Internationalized Domain Names (TF-AIDN) was announced. TF-AIDN is a community-led initiative recommended by the Middle East Strategy Working Group and aims at addressing some of the technical issues related to the deployment of Arabic script IDNs.
The Arab IGF meeting, hosted by the Ministry of Post, Information Technology and Communication of Algeria, brought together more than 300 participants for an open exchange of views on Internet related issues of importance to the region.
Its main theme was “Partners for Development,” which reflects both the nature of the IGF as an avenue for building partnerships across various stakeholders, as well as the importance of the development dimension of the Internet in the region. Sub-themes included access and critical Internet resources; security and privacy; openness and content; youth and innovation.
Among the participants were representatives from governments, civil society, academia, Internet technical bodies, and private sector. Youth participation, particularly from civil society, contributed substantially to the discussions. A range of issues and challenges were addressed from broadband access, IXPs, local content, and innovation, to openness, human rights, and cyber legislations.
There is no question that the challenges are immense. But in my opinion, the only way to tackle these challenges is by broadening the participation and ensuring that all the views are shared. We’re off to a good start. I look forward to the next Arab IGF.