Autumn 2013 Collection: MENA Digital News

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I have been struggling to find a good format for this. Writing a monthly review can be challenging (length, my own timely availability, etc.). But then, a three-month wrap-up is huge… Thus, I decided to organise the whole as follows: one part covering general developments in the region, another part covering the Mashrek (North Africa, Egypt, Lybia) and the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq), and a third part covering the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula (Qatar, KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain). Enjoy the read, add comments if any (always welcome!) and see you again for the Spring Edition.

Internet Governance Events

The second annual Arab Internet Governance Forum was held in Algiers on 1-3 October 2013. The Forum was under the banner of “Partners for Development”, sponsored by Mr. Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. The Forum covered a wide range of topics, ranging from children’s protection online to 4G deployment in the region. The program unveils the absence of local representation from Algerian civil society, and particularly young people. Writing for SMEX, Wafa Ben Yassine also deplores “the lack of stakeholder participation”.

Later in October was held the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Reem el-Massry, researcher at Jordanian 7iber, addressed the biased discussions having taken place at the IGF regarding internet governance in MENA: “The weak presence of the Arab civil society allowed a one-sided official narrative to only graze the surface of repressive practices of governments in this region.”

Media Use and IT Investments

The Northwestern University of Qatar published an eight-nation survey of media use. You can browse and filter responses to a various number of questions, and notice e.g. that fewer than half (47%) of the surveyed think it is safe to express political opinions on Internet while only 46% think individuals should be able to criticize governments online. The Atlantic has a comprehensive summary of the findings.

With social media boom, entrepreneurship’s booming, too. The Christian Science Monitor has an insightful piece discussing the shift from traditional business to IT startups and investments, noting for instance that “at one of the most turbulent times in modern Arab history, e-commerce is growing faster here than anywhere else in the world; sales in the Middle East and Africa increased by 70 percent in 2011 and continue to outpace every other regional market.”

Wamda summarizes a report on venture capital in MENA: it’s on the rise. The report highlights five trends in venture capital investments in the region among which we see a growing venture capital investments share in ICT. Additionally, such investments have decreased in Egypt and the UAE, but increased in Tunisia and Lebanon.

Twitter shares determined to be suitable for Muslim investment, says IdealRatings which tracks stocks to determine whether they meet Muslim finances principles. Reuters adds: “Mohamed Donia, chief executive of IdealRatings, said his company had examined the material on Twitter and decided most was positive for users, including tweets from Islamic scholars.”

Legislation and Online Expression

“The first cyber defence centre in the Middle East has been opened by leading international intelligence company McAfee” and is based in Dubai, writes Courtney Trenwith for Arabian Business.

In the beginning of September, Twitter banned Al-Shabab, Somalia’s Al Qaida faction, for violating its Terms of Service. According to the HuffPo, “al-Shabab uses Twitter mainly to make claims of enemy kills and to spread its view of events in Somalia and East Africa.”

In an interview for French newspaper La Province, François-Bernard Huyghe, researcher at Paris-based think tank IRIS, discusses online presence of terrorist groups. Taking as example the Westgate Mall attack perpetrated by al-Shabab, he reflects on the intense use of social networks by violent factions and evaluates that 3% of the followers represent potential new fighters.

Facebook published its first Global Government Requests Report. The Report covers the first six months of 2013, and details which countries requested information from Facebook about its users, the number of requests received from each of those countries and the number of users/user accounts specified in those requests as well as the percentage of these requests in which Facebook was required by law to disclose at least some data. According to the report, Egypt has filed eight requests regarding 11 users, and Qatar has filed three requests relative to three accounts. In neither case has Facebook disclosed data following the requests.

Sudan’s Internet Blackout

During #SudanRevolts (youth demonstrations against the ruling regime) back in September, Sudan went off the global internet map for 24 hours. American network monitoring expert Renesys could not determine who was responsible for the shutdown, but suggested that government actors were the most likely source. The Sudan Tribune reported that the Sudanese embassy in the US denied government involvement and blaimed protesters for setting on fire a Canar Telecommunications Company building, which caused damage to national networks and ultimately provoked a blackout. According to Renesys senior analyst Doug Madory however, given that the blackout affected all major ISPs in the country (including Canar), the shutdown is “either a government-directed thing or some very catastrophic technological failure that just happen[ed] to coincide with violent riots happening in the city.”

Read and Watch

  • Ideanures is an e-zine on startups and innovation in MENA. Flash is unfortunately required to read.
  • A very insightful slideshow on Gamma Group’s FinFisher selling strategy (reminder: one of the most widespread surveillance software products in the region)