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The Middle East

A happy muslim woman © iStockPhoto / Internet Society

The Internet Society has long been interested in efforts in the Middle East to support and preserve a global, open, resilient, accessible, and sustainable Internet. On 21 September 2016, the Internet Society announced opening the Middle East Regional Bureau and appointed Salam Yamout as its new Director.  

“The Internet Society has been looking for the right person who can help us engage with regional partners, policy makers and Internet communities throughout the Middle East. With her extensive experience in technology and working with various stakeholders in the region, she is well positioned to help the Internet Society promote the benefits of an open, trusted, Internet,” explains Raúl Echeberría, Vice President of Global Engagement for the Internet Society.

Through the appointment of a Regional Director and her engagement with local stakeholders, the Internet Society is building active and supportive presence in the region. Our strategic objectives include:

  • Empowering chapters and members
  • Strengthening Government Relationships
  • Improve Participation in the Digital Economy
  • Build technical knowledge and know-how in the Internet community

Middle East Chapters

Currently, the Middle East Region counts 5 chapters and more than 4,000 members. The chapters are located in Bahrain, Lebanon, Palestine, UAE, and Yemen. The greater Middle East region also counts chapters in Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia with some 900 additional members.  Close coordination takes place between the Middle East bureau and the Africa bureau for the North African chapters.

We have watched the numbers of ISOC Chapters and Members in the region grow quickly, particularly in recent years.  

The Region Specificity

We conducted a study during 2016 to seek advice on a range of key questions, including the level of presence and the geographic scope for a Bureau in the Region, and the critical issues that stakeholder wished to see addressed. The study is based on approximately 25 interviews conducted over the Internet in August 2016 with stakeholders from across the region, as well as some secondary research. The main conclusions of the study point to the following:
  • The Middle East region is a heterogeneous group of countries, highly diverse in their characteristics.  
  • Access is affordable in the region – but cost is still a complaint, and language increasingly so
  • The region underperforms on most indices of digital economy readiness and ease of doing business.  There is no economic activity related to the Internet such as e-commerce, e-government, etc.  As a result, the community of people who rely for a living on the Internet is quite small, leading to correspondingly thin number of stakeholders (private sector or civil society) interested in Internet governance.
  • The region can be characterized as nascent technical community; there is no noticeable participation from the region in international Internet related fora.
  • The region displays continued state involvement in the telecoms sector
  • There is a great potential in the region due to the large number of young people among the population (close to 30%), and the region has been posting incremental increases in Internet (fixed and mobile) penetration rates.

Relevant Policies

Through a regional mailing list, face to face meetings such as the one held during the IGF 2016 in Guadalajara Mexico, the community expressed interest in the following policy issues:
  • Job Creation, Innovation, and entrepreneurship
  • Education and online learning
  • Development of Local Content
  • Access and Trust