From 20-23 January, activists and bloggers from across the Arab world gathered in Amman, Jordan for the Fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting. Organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Global Voices, the three-day private event was followed by a public forum with panel discussions, debates, and interviews on 23 January.
Cyber Steward Network partner and citizen media platform 7iber was the local organiser and Citizen Lab partner Hisham Almiraat, Director of Global Voices Advocacy (Advox) led the programming of the event.
In the morning of 23 January, a debate titled “Censorship doesn’t matter anymore, surveillance is the real problem” was moderated by Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Arguing for the motion were Citizen Lab Security Researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire and blogger Anr Gharbeia. Arguing against were Cyber Steward Walid Al-Saqaf and Global Voices Advocacy Editor Ellery Biddie.
“We must not ignore censorship. Surveillance is one form of censorship,” said Al-Saqaf.
“The surveillance debate is going to become really important. The methods of real surveillance are only now starting to be understood by people,” added Marquis-Boire, referring to the Snowden revelations.
During the day, a video honouring jailed Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was shown. Abd El Fattah has been in prison in Cairo since November 2013. The group also released a statement, coordinated by IFEX and EFF, demanding the release of Abd El Fattah and all political prisoners in Egypt.
In the afternoon, Reem al-Masri of 7iber moderated a debate on Internet governance in the MENA region. The discussion centred on the role of multistakeholder Internet governance structures in the Arab world and the challenges associated with repressive governments. Panelists included Mohamed Najem of Social Media Exchange (SMEX), Blogger Wafa Ben Hassine, Fahd Batayneh from ICANN, and Abed Shamlawi from the ICT Association of Jordan. Al-Masri is currently leading Jordan’s first Internet Governance Research Project as part of the Cyber Stewards Network.
At the end of the day, a lively music night was held at the 7iber cafe.
Arab Bloggers meetings have over the past six years (Beirut 2008 & 2009, Tunis 2011) brought together influential voices from across the region, playing an important role in helping digital activists build a network of solidarity prior to the Arab uprisings