Following Edward Snowden's revelations about the US National Security Agency, the international community has been abuzz with discussion over new models for Internet governance. But are Arab citizens taking part in this discussion? One influential organization says they are not, because awareness of digital rights is so lacking.
IGMENA is the Internet Governance programme in the Middle East and North Africa of the Dutch international development organization Hivos. Their new campaign “Click Rights” aims to bring more awareness of digital rights to citizens, so they in turn can pressure governments and the private sector to uphold them. (Disclosure: Global Voices is a grantee of Hivos.)
On their website, they introduce topics including universality, accessibility, expression and privacy, in an interactive and easy-to-remember way. “We provide a set of ten punchy internet rights included in the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for Internet [by the UN Internet Governance Forum], which are still not recognized by the Arab community,” explains IGMENA’s Communication and Advocacy Officer Noha Fathi.
Pointing to Internet restrictions throughout the region, Fathi, who is Egyptian, dives into the situation in her own country: “Internet freedom is still being stifled in Egypt… Online activists and bloggers are detained, sometimes because of a tweet that is perceived by the authorities as a source of menace to national security. There are restrictions on many levels, technical, policy and human rights.”
“Since citizens can’t do lobbying if they are not aware of the rights, we aim to provide a set of rights that are still not recognized by the Arab community and to build consensus around them. Accessing the governments is a long-term objective because without raising awareness of Arab netizens about their rights in the first place, it will be almost impossible to have consensus on any principle,” says Fathi.