Regional updates: Middle East and North Africa

What were the main digital policy regional updates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region? This space brings you the main updates month by month, summarised by the observatory's curators.

Follow the GIP's March 2020 briefing on Internet governance, which will include updates from the MENA region during March 2020. Register to attend.

February 2020

Curated by Noha Fathy

4IR is key to opportunities for women in MENA, McKinsey reports

19 Feb 2020 |  Sustainable development, Gender rights online, Access, Inclusive finance

During the Global Women’s Forum on 16-17 February 2020 in Dubai, McKinsey unveiled the findings of its recent publication Middle East Women at Work which underscored the role of gender parity in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). According to the report, enterprises owned or partially owned by women generate 2.5 times the return of others. Women representation in professional and technical jobs are mostly driven by education, digital inclusion, financial inclusion, and legal protection. ‘We must create more role models for young girls by choosing study fields that offer more digital skills. Also, 69 million women in MENA are still not using the internet, and many women in the region remain unbanked, often as a result of not having identification documents,’ noted McKinsey & Company partner Chiara Marcati.

Digital space in MENA region is stifled, reports Amnesty International

18 Feb 2020 |  Freedom of expression, Freedom of the Press

Amnesty International published a Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2019 which covers the offline and online violations of human rights in the region. According to the report, during 2019, the MENA region witnessed a crackdown of online dissent voices where 136 individuals were arrested for peacefully expressing their opinions online and 12 countries were reported to be prisoners of conscience. Online censorship and surveillance techniques have also been deployed by some governments. ‘The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders,’ said Amnesty International Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther.

Saudi Arabia promotes digital cash through new digital initiatives

18 Feb 2020 |  E-commerce and trade, Inclusive finance

Saudi Payments, a state-owned payment infrastructure provider, and Saudi Telecom Company’s STC Pay, an integrated payment application, kicked off a partnership to develop its mobile wallet and collaborate on digital projects. STC highlighted that the collaboration would allow them to work with financial and technology driven enterprises to reduce dependence on cash in the country. ‘Through this agreement, we aspire to raise the diversity level in services and solutions for all service providers and beneficiaries in order to achieve the maximum benefit from the unified infrastructure services provided by Saudi Payments,’ noted Saudi Payments CEO Ziad Al Yousef.

MENA governments to direct their ICT spending to digital transformation says IDC

17 Feb 2020 |  Sustainable development

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) latest report, governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) spent US$12.8 billion on information and communications technologies (ICTs) in 2019. Experts at IDC expect this figure to go up during the coming years at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.8%, crossing the US$15 billion mark by 2023. ‘Governments across the region are under mounting pressure to become both more efficient and more effective. However, this is proving to be a troublesome task as many government organisations are simply not prepared for digital redesign. Whether it’s finding ways to integrate 5G, AI and Blockchain or protect against intrusions on digital trust, government agencies have a whole new set of IT skills to learn,’ noted IDC’s Group Vice President and Regional Managing Director for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa Jyoti Lalchandani.

World Bank Group launches initiatives supporting women entrepreneurs in the Middle East

16 Feb 2020 |  Gender rights online

Aiming at promoting start-up financing and e-commerce markets for women entrepreneurs, the World Bank Group launched new initiatives during the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) on 16-17 February in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The first is the ScaleX programme by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) which aims at addressing the gender financial gap through providing incentives for venture capital funds to women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. The second is a partnership between the World Bank and UPS to help women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region grow their businesses by assisting them in successfully leveraging e-commerce platforms. ‘By making e-commerce platforms more accessible, this partnership addresses a key constraint faced by women business leaders in reaching new markets. E-commerce platforms create opportunities, and we must ensure these opportunities are open to women-owned businesses across the region,’ noted World Bank MENA Vice President Ferid Belhaj.

Social media companies encroach Palestinian’s media freedom

11 Feb 2020 |  Freedom of expression

During a press conference convened by Watan TV, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) issued its annual report on media freedoms in Palestine in 2019. The report sheds light on the different Israeli and Palestinian violations of media freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On top of these violations were social media companies, particularly Facebook. According to the report, 181 violations were conducted by social media companies and networks, out of which 180 were reported to Facebook and WhatsApp. The target of these violations were journalists as well as Palestinian citizens which included the closing down by Facebook of news pages (belonging to various media outlets), and others belonging to Palestinian journalists, blocking them for specific periods, deleting content published on them, or preventing the administrators of these pages to post on Facebook.





Human rights organisations denounce the clampdown on social media in Morocco

5 Feb 2020 |  Freedom of expression

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch published a case listing Moroccan citizens who were imprisoned or indicted recently in violation of their right to express themselves peacefully online. According to the organisations, the Moroccan authorities have been stifling the digital space since September 2019 and have arrested and prosecuted at least ten activists, artists, or other citizens for peacefully expressing critical opinions via Facebook posts, YouTube videos, or rap songs. The organisations called upon the Moroccan government to release the detainees and drop the charges that vary between ‘lack of due respect for the king,’ ‘defaming state institutions,’ and ‘offending public officials’. ‘An increasing number of Moroccans are taking to social media to express bold political opinions, including about the king, as is their right. As self-censorship erodes, the authorities have stepped in to frantically try to reinstate the red lines,’ said Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa communications director Ahmed Benchemsi.

Three editors convicted for defamation and spreading false news by the Iranian court

3 Feb 2020 |  Freedom of expression, Freedom of the Press

The Tehran’s Media Court condemned three local editors from three different news websites for allegedly ‘spreading false news and defamation’. The editors whose names were not revealed work for the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), the Bultannews news website, and the energy news website NeftEMA. As ISNA reported, the case was made when the National Iranian Gas Transmission Company filed a complaint against NeftEMA for ‘spreading misinformation, defamation, and insult’. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced these charges and requested they be dropped immediately. ‘If the Iranian government has a credible case against the editors of ISNA, NeftEMA, and Bultannews, they should try them openly and publicly. Closed door trials of journalists cannot be considered fair or impartial and the Iranian judiciary has a history of holding opaque judicial proceedings that lack credibility,’ said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator Sherif Mansour.

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