Session: Access & Diversity
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This session focused on exploring ways to raise the level of information and communications technology (ICT) penetration in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by discussing challenges, weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities in three areas:
The workshop was moderated by Mr Walid Al-Saqaf, Trustee, Internet Society, who began the session with a brief description of the workshop and format, and by introducing the speakers. He also explained how the workshop was divided into two parts: strengths and challenges in relation to the Internet in the MENA region; and recommendations for Internet governance and development.
Ms Nibal Idlebi, Chief of Innovation, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), joined remotely and discussed the development of the ICT sector. She specifically addressed the positive role of technology zones and business incubators in the region, as well as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, who are investing abroad in ICT, especially infrastructure and services. She highlighted that a significant challenge in the region is the weak efficiency of the ICT sector, as well as limited research, development, and innovation.
Mr Hafedh Yahmadi, Independent ICT Strategist and Engineer, addressed the role of ICT for education in the MENA region. He stressed that an underutilised strength of the region is its young population with its common culture and language. Yet the region also faces the challenge of connecting schools to the Internet and developing quality online content. He added that educational reform and the respect for intellectual property are two of the most important issues in the region.
Mr Hisham Aboulyazed, Senior Manager for Global Internet Policies, National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTIA), Egypt, discussed development of the Internet ecosystem in the MENA region, which features a strong movement of Internet-based entrepreneurship across the region, lead by young entrepreneurs. A challenge to the Internet ecosystem in the region, however, is that it is regarded as still being underdeveloped in terms of stakeholder involvement and engagement – making effective multistakeholder interaction more challenging. He also stressed that the academic community in the region is not very organised in terms of academic networks.
Ms Noha Fathy, Internet Legislation Atlas Project Manager, iGmena (Hivos), shared the iGmena program’s experiences with capacity building. The program focuses on empowering individuals from the region, especially women, to take part in the Internet policy dialogue, She recognized that key stakeholders are still not involved in the process.
Mr Mohit Saraswat, Founding Member, Internet Society, United Arab Emirates Chapter, discussed ICT infrastructure in the region, and highlighted multiple opportunities, including increased investment in infrastructure both from the government and from private entities. He also described a challenge for the region, which is the lack of enough Internet exchange points (IXPs).
Ms Nadira Alaraj, Vice Chair, Internet Society, Palestine joined remotely and discussed the role of women in the regional economy and vis-à-vis ICTs. She said that women in the MENA region are unexploited human capital; however, it is difficult to bring MENA women into the labour force.
Mr Cherkaoui Leghris, Professor, Hassan II University, Casablanca, highlighted the impact that the ICT Infrastructure has on the MENA region, and noted that the region is willing to roll out ICT infrastructure. However, he also added that it is difficult to measure the impact of this infrastructure on sustainable development.
The session concluded with various recommendations offered by the panellists, including:
by Michael Oghia, Internet Society Serbia