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A Reflection on IPA Authors’ Experience at the Arab Internet Governance Forum in Beirut

Internet Governance for the MENA Region (IGMENA) program authors came to the Tunis International Radio Channel Radio (RTCI) Session English Hour with Mrs. Hayat Toukabri to share their experiences with the Internet Policy Analyst (IPA) project and the Arab Internet Governance Forum (AIGF) that was held in Beirut. The radio guests included:
 
• Mr. Hafeth Yahmadi, Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group Member, AIGF
• Mr. Hamza Ben Mehrez, Policy Analyst Lead, IGMENA
• Ms. Sara Attafi, Law Student, IPA author, Hivos fellow
• Ms. Aicha Chebbi, International Relations Student, IPA author
 

The forum was hosted by OGERO Telecom, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) for three consecutive days, between 16 to 18 December. The Arab IGF panelists covered the following issues; Internet-related international public policies, cyber security environment and trust, access and infrastructure, human and social dimensions of the internet. 
 
Mr  H. Yahmadi mentioned that the AIGF  is non-binding or decision making authority , therefore, its outputs or reports contribute to advise governments around different IG issues based on its high level of expertise as well as its effective multistakeholderism approach. The AIGF is a relevant space where it is often used as shorthand for IG multistakholder’s participation which has a tremendous impact on how to shape the future  of the internet evolution in Tunisia and the Mena region. He also addressed the fact that this edition of AIGF is the last one of the current mandate and urged for continuing the debates in our Arab region while the event took place just two days after the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10), in which the mandate for global IGF was renewed for another ten years. 
 
He also praised the active participation of the Tunisia delegation and reflected their active engagement of young Internet governance advocates throughout their own communities. In the meanwhile, In his last intervention, Mr Yahmadi also made an urgent call to the Tunisia government to fill out its promises by activating the two civil society representatives (Two seats)  in the board of members  of the (CSEN) “Strategic Committee of the Digital Economy”,  which is unfortunately acting now in a contradiction with the last amended law that endorsed  these two seats of the civil society as an initiative to strengthen  the multistakeholders  model in the CSEN.

Ms. Sara Attafi, a law student, IGMENA member, and IPA writer who is currently preparing her thesis on International Humanitarian Law, reflected on her experience with the capacity building DiploFoundation course. She mentioned that the online training opened up a window of global experiences and opinions, allowing her to increase her knowledge and skills in policy areas related to Internet governance topics such as cyber-security, data protection, privacy, censorship, and surveillance policies in the MENA region. 

Ms. Attafi took the DilpoFoundation course from September to November 2015. As someone with a legal background, it seemed at first that the course was different from what she used to do. However, she decided to take a chance and she didn't regret it. During the online classes she met people from different backgrounds. It was an opportunity to learn more about the issues related to IG such as the technical aspects, IG infrastructure, human rights aspects, and the relation between IG and human development. She thinks that the course was the starting point to gain interest in the Internet governance field. After the successful completion of the course, she became a Hivos fellow to participate in the 4th AIGF. Since then, she has become a distinguished writer for the Internet Policy Analyst initiative.
 
The 4th annual AIGF was for her an opportunity to interact with experts and people from different countries and backgrounds. The forum workshops were very important and allowed fellows to participate with comments or questions, especially on the issues they weren’t familiar with. Some workshops were very inspiring for Ms. Attafi, such as having the chance to hear the experiences of many human rights defenders and experts who were there to share their knowledge and techniques with the participants.
 
Ms. Attafi believes that the IPA project offers an extraordinary opportunity for activists and experts working in the field of IG to bring together all of their efforts, in order to create a better framework for IG in Tunisia. The IPA project is paving the way to make changes and influence the policy-making process in an evolving way. In Tunisia, the legal framework is precarious and the process of policy-making isn't really inclusive. The IPA project, with its exceptional minds, is promising in this aspect and she believes will have a positive influence.
 
Ms. Aicha Jeridi talked about her writing experience with the IPA project, as someone who has a relevant background in international relations and ICT development. She was particularly keen on joining IGMENA to talk about relevant Internet governance issues in Tunisia. Ms. Jeridi talked about her second article for the IPA project, on the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), which is the exclusive state Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in the country. It was considered as the commander of censorship – controlling access to the Internet in Tunisia prior to the 2010 revolution – even though, and to the contrary of what many still believe, ATI was only hosting the equipment that served to survey, censor, or shut down certain websites, in its building.
 
In the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution, ATI has demonstrated its openness and good will to partner with a wide range of stakeholders in the local, regional, and international landscape, including AFRINIC, ICANN, IGF, and civil society groups, so as to overcome challenges and deliver higher service quality. Despite the challenging context, including new actors on the scene and technical and financial issues, several important steps have been taken by ATI, and the agency still endeavors to regain its lead in Tunisia. That can only be possible through teamwork and cooperation between ATI, multi-stakeholders, and civil society to promote progress.
 
Mr. Hamza Ben Mehrez mentioned that one of the most promising avenues for youth participation in the AIGF was the Internet Policy Analyst project workshop. IPA has empowered new voices to  showcase Internet freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, control and monitoring, from an Internet economy perspective. The panelists at that workshop were four young prominent and passionate people from Morocco and Tunisia, who presented their analysis of Internet policies in the Middle East and North Africa.
 
Mr. Ben Mehrez talked about the stages of the policy analysis cycle and how policy analysis should be shaped in the actual context of the MENA region. An inclusive decision-making process is needed to secure the future of IG policy. All the individuals in the IG community, including students, IT professionals, and policy-makers (even those who do not write Internet policy as their primary job) are critical to shape the Internet policy process.
 
Students will determine the future of IT in industry; IT professionals will determine what technology is deployed; and policy-makers will write the Internet policies and wait for legislators’ approvals. Each group is acting from their own side; the objective is to map all of these efforts in a one sustainable, collaborative platform to create an Internet policy framework that can serve the public good.
 
Mr. Ben Mehrez stated that the necessary strategy is to engage with the government around the scenarios that matter to them and their needs. We must target key audience segments with a strong value proposition and offer the use of policy advocacy to coordinate our activities. Policy advocacy can help develop value propositions that align with each audience segment. Internet policy analysts should develop a deeper understanding when it comes to policy advocacy and how to use advocacy approaches and tools that can help shape a more inclusive dialogue with governments and influence local or national policy.
 
In most original and ambitious efforts to engage citizens in tackling tough policy choices, from privacy, cyber-security, and net neutrality legislation to community planning, IPA has been influential in conducting major reference panels, citizens’ assemblies, and commissions involving a growing number of policy analysts and IG actors in the MENA region. Today the IPA project is an internationally recognized leader in the design and delivery of deliberative processes for Internet policy analysis and IG community leadership in the MENA region.

Link: http://igmena.org/index.php?p=601


Conversation summarized by
Hamza Ben Mehrez, Policy Analyst, IGMENA
 

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