The Arab Internet Governance Forum (Arab IGF) is one of the latest additions to the regional IGFs that were launched after the success of the global IGF. It is meant to be an independent platform for all stakeholder groups in the Arab World to discuss issues and policies related to Internet governance (IG) on an equal footing.
[This is a Guest Blog by Qusai AlShatti, Chairman of the Arab MAG, Kuwait Information Technology Society]
Talk of an Arab Internet dialogue (or having an IGF for the Arab World) started among the Arab participants who attended the RIO IGF meeting in 2007. At that time, the RIO meeting was the second IGF meeting and many were looking at how the IGF would evolve, what type of dialogue it would develop and what its influence would be on Internet-related activities. It wasn’t until October 2010 when the first step was initiated by the United Nation Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia (UN ESCWA) in the form of an Experts meeting to discuss a regional Arab IGF.
The participants in that meeting realised that the challenge would be how to include all the Arab World which stretches from the Middle East to North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, to make the IGF a true reflection of the Arab World in way that would convince all stakeholder groups. The participants had two options: the first was to empower themselves as a group and announce the launch of the Arab IGF and let the others join them. The second was to have an umbrella group representing the Arab World that was accepted by all stakeholders groups.
Regarding the first choice, it was noted that several regional IGFs had been initiated in this manner and they became successful when participants from all stakeholder groups became proactive and joined in. But given the culture of the Arab world, if an event is described as an Arab event, the question of the basis on which it is so called would likely be raised and a convincing answer needed. Based on the participants’ experience, this is important for an event that would look for support, continuation, participation (from all stakeholders), and sustainability.
For the second option, it was foreseen that having the right umbrella group would reflect positively on the launch of the Arab IGF. But this would be a longer process, since it would involve identifying the umbrella entity, having it endorse the Arab IGF and define its role. A consensus was reached and the participants agreed that the League of Arab States (LAS) and the UNESCWA would be a suitable umbrella for the Arab IGF. The UNESCWA, being the initiator of this expert meeting, was already committed to the Arab IGF but its membership covers mainly the Arab countries in the Middle East and not North Africa. Therefore, it was important to have the League of Arab States (LAS) as part of the umbrella since its membership covers all the Arab countries and it is regarded by the Arab people as an organisation for all Arabs.
The outcome of the experts meeting was forwarded to the League of Arab States (LAS), specifically a sub-organisation called ‘The Arab Telecommunication and Information Ministers Council’. This took place at the most active time of the Arab Spring in early 2011. On June 2011, this sub-organisation requested that the Secretariat of LAS in cooperation with the UNESCWA hold a multistakeholder open consultation to seek input on the need for an Arab IGF, its nature, and its objectives. This was regarded as a positive development, especially in that it requested a multistakeholder engagement.
The Open Consultations were held in January 2012 in Beirut, Lebanon. The participants represented all multistakeholders groups: governments, private sector, civil society, academia, and the technical community. There was overwhelming support for the launch of Arab IGF which was regarded extremely important due to the Internet-related challenges in the Arab World and their impact during the events of the Arab Spring. The open consultation went further in recommending a structure for the Arab IGF similar to the global IGF (an Arab MAG responsible for setting the programme and a secretariat to coordinate the activities among all involved parties). The National Telecommunication Authority of the Republic of Egypt asked to be the secretariat of the Arab IGF and was recommended by the participants in the open consultations. The Kuwait Information Technology Society (KITS) asked to host the first Arab IGF. In addition, the open consultations recommended the objectives and nature of the Arab IGF as requested by LAS. Furthermore, during the open consultations it was recommended that the umbrella organisations’ role would be to oversee the preparations and convene the Arab IGF without interfering with setting the program, which should be the Arab MAG’s role.
Between January and June 2012, an announcement was made for the membership of the Arab MAG to all stakeholders groups and a selection process was undertaken by LAS and the UNESCWA. In June 2012, the Arab IGF was endorsed by The Arab Telecommunication and Information Ministers Council. This meant that the goal of having an umbrella for the Arab IGF was achieved. The Arab MAG convened in June and September of the same year and the first Arab IGF was held in the State of Kuwait between 9 and 11 October 2012. The success of the first meeting was beyond expectations both in terms of participation and programme.
For the second meeting, an open consultation was held in Dubai, UAE in March 2013. During this meeting Algeria was selected to host the second Arab IGF. The Algerian host was The Ministry of Telecommunication, Post and Information Technology. Another Arab MAG meeting was held in June 2013 in Casablanca, Morocco, and the second Arab IGF meeting was convened 1-3 October 2013 in Algiers, Algeria. The momentum of success continued in the second meeting with regard to participation and programme and we look forward to the further successes to be achieved by the Arab IGF.