Role of Virtual Activism in bringing technology-awareness to NGOs in the Middle East

VA

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 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:

  1. Considering this meeting to be the
    founding meeting for the Arab Caucus.  
  2. 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].
  3. 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.
  4. Participation of all the participants in
    the existing mailing list for further discussion.
  5. 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

Context:

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.
This meeting was made possible through funding by ….. The Arab civil society
caucus’ propose 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 is 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 can strengthen the co-ordinated 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.

Agenda

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 focuses solely on the
intersection between ICT 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 focuses exclusively on the Middle East’s under represented and marginalized NGOs,
providing them with IT tools and knowledge that are 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. 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 that took place May 7-10.
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…)

– Preparations for Geneva:

Participants,
activities

– Preparations to the summit

a-
the two panels that the Caucus has applied for,
b- Others’ panels,
c- Other potential activities,
d- List of participants,
c- Follow up of the caucuses; (Arab, human rights, development, youth, gender,
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 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 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/
We are planning to attend the WSIS +10 review meeting in Paris.

10-
UNESCO:

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.

Additional
Information:

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.