Role of Virtual Activism in WSIS and subsequent events
Virtual Activism attended the first phase of WSIS which took place in Geneva. While there, we noticed that there was no Arab representation; only a handful of either governmental entities or some Tunisian NGOs were there, the latter specifically because the second phase was to be organized in Tunisia. At the time there was hardly any knowledge of ICT in general in the Arab World. Marlyn Tadros, Executive Director of Virtual Activism even wrote an article entitled Absence of Arab NGOs at WSIS.
Since Virtual Activism was the first organization to try and bring an understanding of ICT’s importance for human rights and development, we took the initiative to prepare an Arab Caucus. Virtual Activism’s goal was to raise awareness about the intersection of ICT and human rights and development to the Arab World and to prepare for a strong participation in Phase II in Tunisia.
The following is Virtual Activism’s initiatives re WSIS:
1- Virtual Activism attended the Pan-Arab Regional Conference for the WSIS, June 16-17:
Virtual Activism’s representative in Cairo, attended the Pan-Arab Regional Conference for the WSIS in Cairo, Egypt, from June 16-17, 03. The conference is part of the WSIS preparatory processes.
2- Formation of an Arab Caucus in Cairo
Virtual Activism invited NGOs to a roundtable entitled Towards an Arab Caucus for the World Summit on Information Society – Tunis 2004. The event was attended by more than 25 NGOs from Egypt, Sudan and Libya, with 60 participants from civil society, and took place at the Shepherd Hotel in downtown Cairo.
Marlyn Tadros, director of Virtual Activism, presented a background on WSIS and its two phases, the topics and themes that have been discussed, and the idea of forming an Arab Caucus which would eventually create an NGO declaration on Communication Rights in the Arab World. She also presented background information on PrepCom I and the events and topics discussed. In addition, Dr. Tadros explained that this meeting was only a beginning of a series of meetings that would take place hopefully in Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon, so that the Caucus may be an ‘Arab’ and not an ‘Egyptian’ caucus. She also noted that this Caucus, if it was to be formed, was coming quite late in the process, and that there was indeed limited time for the Caucus to accomplish as much as it should.
Prior to the event, participants received papers and a computer disc with papers related to the discussions, as a backgrounder for the meeting. The papers included the proposed draft mandate for the Caucus, as well as information about other existing caucuses and their focal points.
Participants were concerned that they had little information not only about WSIS but also about the topics surrounding it, and there was a clear need to create a series of events that would explain and provide more information on the topics and issues that deal with the Internet and the information society. Specifically, it was important to understand the relationship of ICT to development and also to corporations, among others. Participants agreed that while human rights, and specifically the general situation of human rights in the Arab World and Tunisia, is an extremely important topic, it is not the only topic that the Caucus should deal with, but that there are other ‘communication rights’ issues that the Caucus should understand and deal with.
There was overwhelming support for the formation of an Arab Caucus. Steps were agreed upon for future activities and involvement and this included:
- Considering this meeting to be the founding meeting for the Arab Caucus.
- The formation of a small ‘steering committee’ that would build upon the current draft mandate that was presented and re-write it with clear upcoming event. While the committee is open for participation, an initial group was formed to begin the process. This group will be re-writing the mandate online [perhaps through a WIKI].
- The organization of a series of meetings to present the issues surrounding communication rights. The meetings will be hosted in a revolving manner or in a neutral venue so that it would not be ‘colored’ by the hosting organization’s priorities.
- Participation of all the participants in the existing mailing list for further discussion.
- The creation of an online forum for discussion which would also be hosted in a neutral space.
A draft mandate was also written for distribution to other Arab NGOs across the region:
Arab Caucus Draft Mandate
In WSIS Phase I, there was a clear absence of Arab civil society representation. Civil society within and across regions have organized around the WSIS action plan, with the exception of Arab civil society. While Arab civil society was sporadically presented in other caucuses such as the Human Rights Caucus, there are specific Arab needs and specificity that need to be addressed at WSIS. This document presents the draft mandate for an Arab Caucus to represent Arab civil society at WSIS Phase II in Tunisia. All Arab civil society is welcome, and it is open for participation, welcoming new members with common interests. All forms of interaction and cooperation are welcomed throughout the process.
Noting the absence of Arab civil society in WSIS Phase I,
Taking into account the UN Arab Human Development Report of 2003 which discussed the need for a Knowledge Society,
Aware of the Phase I WSIS Declaration of Principles, The Civil Society Declaration and that the WSIS Action Plan calls for Regional Plans to be developed,
Taking into account the Millennium Development Goals,
Convinced that Arab states have unique information society needs in global terms and that WSIS is an event that must be contextualised in a development process,
Building on the mandate document developed at WSIS December 2003 that outlined strategies of promoting the views of civil society, advocating and lobbying, informing global civil society, advising institutions, ensuring capacity development and networking and formation of partnerships,
The first Egyptian Civil Society for Information Society meeting took place July 04, Cairo, Egypt, and was funded by Virtual Activism and the Heinrich Bell Foundation. The Arab civil society caucus purpose is to take the lead in promoting substantive themes of particular regional significance within the Summit processes, including those of access, privacy, communication rights, and the recognition of cultural, social and political dimensions crucial to this discourse.
Objectives and purpose:
- The objective of the Arab Civil Society Caucus was to strengthen and contribute to the effective participation of civil society organizations from the Arab World to the WSIS Phase II Summit.
- Work together to develop proactive statements that may strengthen the coordinated lobby of civil society groups interested in social justice, social development, and human rights through the WSIS Phase II process.
- Facilitate discussion and consensus building among civil society organisations on overall content and themes issues between the official sessions and during the Prepcoms; and liase with civil society organizations at national conferences on agenda issues.
Items adopted to be part of the Agenda included the following key items:
1. Establish a drafting commission
2. Analyse the composition and the status of the ArabCS Coordination and its future perspectives
3. Action Plan till WSIS 2005
4- Relations between and with Arab NGOs
5. Relations with international and UN organizations
6. Update on the preparatory process of the second phase of the summit
7. Priorities of the ArabCS
8. ArabCS Participation in the global Civil Society bureau
3- In 2004, Virtual Activism launched the MENGOS initiative which is the Middle East NGOs initiative
The initiative focused solely on the intersection between ICTs and human rights and development in the Middle East. http://www.mengos.net MENGOS was a unique online project that aimed at disseminating information and promoting progressive human rights and development initiatives in the Arab Middle East. It was the first online project that focused exclusively on the Middle East’s under represented and marginalized NGOs, providing them with IT tools and knowledge that were specific to the region, in order to support and strengthen their work. We also published an online newsletter that dealt only with ICT-awareness raising.
4- Marlyn Tadros, executive director of Virtual Activism chosen as the facilitator of the Arab Caucus:
Following the event, the Heinrich Bell Foundation invited Virtual Activism to attend a conference taking place in Amman, Jordan to bring up the issue of the Arab Caucus formation and to ask participants in that conference to join. [Acknowledgement of Heinrich Boell foundation of Virtual Activism’s work http://www.worldsummit2003.de/en/web/633.htm ]
Virtual Activism and members of the Egyptian Civil Society group in the Arab Caucus attended the conference in Amman, Jordan organized by SIGI [Aman Resource Center] from 13-15 September 04. Virtual Activism presented a paper on the use of ICTs in human rights and development and also gave a presentation on open source software. Members of the Egyptian and Libyan committees for the Arab Caucus were present. Working groups were formed at the conference to discuss the mandate of the Arab Caucus and the final mandate was agreed upon.
5- UN ICT Task Force:
Marlyn Tadros, as facilitator of the Arab Caucus for WSIS, was invited by Heinrich Boell Foundation to attend the UN ICT Task Force which was organized in Berlin, Germany from 19-20 November 04. She also participated in civil society meetings before, after and during the conference.
6-Focused training workshops
Virtual Activism also began intensifying its work through training workshops on ICT and the concepts behind the WSIS process. We organized a series of workshops even in non-formal settlements.
7- Cairo regional conference for WSIS:
From May 7th-10 2005 Executive Director Marlyn Tadros attended the Cairo Regional Conference for WSIS. During the conference, the Arab Caucus organized a small two-day meeting that was attended by Dr. Emad Adly and Mohammed from Ra’ed, Egypt, Kinda Mohammadi and Ziad Abdel Samad from ANND, Lebanon, and Hadeel Gazzaz from the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Among the decisions the Arab Caucus took:
– Preparations for the regional meeting in July 05:
a- regional paper; Ziad Alawne from Jordan will write the first draft,
b- National reports; the Lebanese one is ready,
c- Official Arab statements,
d- The main documents of the summit, agenda, etc…)
8- Manual and publications:
Virtual Activism, as part of its awareness raising campaign, wrote an Arabic/English manual entitled Communication Rights and Human Rights in a Knowledge Society.
Virtual Activism also published a WSIS section on its website to raise awareness of all the issues regarding that conference and to encourage participation. As a member of several international working groups [the Human Rights working group on WSIS for example] Virtual Activism published many papers on its website and raised awareness regarding Arab NGOs in particular and published a faq page on its website.
Virtual Activism also translated several documents pertaining to the conference in participation with other NGOs who translated them in different languages. Eg. http://www.iris.sgdg.org/actions/smsi/hr-wsis/ Several documents were translated by Virtual Activism
9- Online consultations:
Virtual Activism has participated in the WSIS online consultations that took place 15th October – 15th December 2010. We have succeeded in putting human rights and ICTs on the agenda for WSIS.
Virtual Activism has participated in many of the events online regarding WSIS including the most recent in 2019. The second phase of the open consultations on the 2013 World Summit on the Information Society multistakeholder review event (WSIS+10).
We are also members of the WSIS Knowledge Communities and participate in the discussions. http://www.wsis-community.org/
Virtual Activism is also involved in UNESCO’s 2011 online meeting of the Consultative Group of the Open Educational Quality Initiative (OPAL). OPAL is a 2010 – 2011 flagship initiative being implemented by a group of organisations representing leading Higher Education Institutions and Educational Organisations. OPAL aims to improve the quality of higher education and adult education by mainstreaming innovative OER practices to transform education and training. We also attended the conference in Paris in November 2011.
Virtual Activism is also involved in the Minorities & Inequalities in the post-2015 development agenda and also in the Millenium Development Summit +10. We attended the Attended MDG Summit at United Nations NYC, June 2010.