Middle East and North Africa
Internet usage in the Middle East and North Africa has been increasing at a rapid pace, as infrastructure has improved and mobile phones have offered new opportunities for internet access. The MENA region is also characterized by a very large youth population–people under 25 make up 35%-50% of the population in MENA countries—driving demand for access to the internet and social media. As a result, MENA countries have been investing in IT infrastructure and expanding Arabic media presence.
The Gulf hosts a majority of Arabic news sites such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, CNN, and BBC. Arabic typeset presents a unique challenge for the MENA region, because unlike most languages it is written right-to-left and it is very difficult to translate, so countries such as Qatar are aiming to create more Arabic content on the internet. As of 2015, Arabic is the 4th most used languages on the internet at about 4.8%.
As demand for internet access increases in the MENA region, so does censorship. Oftentimes, MENA governments censor political blogs and pornography. In Egypt and Algeria, where governments do not filter content as aggressively, citizens have taken it upon themselves to deem what content should be censored through online user-organized campaigns. Pornography is deemed haram (forbidden) according to Islam and is censored like hate speech and child pornography in the West. Several MENA countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt, censor and jail online political dissidents.
There are many critical gaps in MENA internet governance research. First, while certain countries have received a great deal of scholarly attention, there are others that have very little research pertaining to internet policies. Research on Iran dominates the MENA scholarly literature on media and internet policies, whereas internet governance research on North Africa, especially Algeria and Libya, is minimal. Additionally, drastic changes that have occurred to political, social, and economic systems since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, it has been difficult to track changes in internet accessibility and censorship in certain countries. Freedom House’s annual reports provide the most current accounts, however they do not have data on many MENA countries.
The following list is a compilation of scholarly resources, news articles, and histories exploring ever-changing internet policies and their economic, political, and social effects in the Middle East and North Africa.
Gelvanovska, Natalija; Rogy, Michel; Rossotto, Carlo Maria. 2014. Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa : Accelerating High-Speed Internet Access. Directions in Development–Communication and Information Technologies;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/16680 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
This report published by the World Bank evaluates the impact of broadband Internet in the MENA region through assessing the status of existing infrastructure in 18 MENA countries. The authors provide a more technical account of internet access in the region through maps and charts that illustrate connectivity (fiber-optic cables, bandwidth) in different sub-regions of MENA. The report highlights market obstacles and recommends that MENA countries should adjust market structures to encourage competition among service providers and implement cross-sector infrastructure.
Keywords: ICTs, connectivity, infrastructure, broadband
York, Jillian. “The Arab Digital Vanguard: How a Decade of Blogging Contributed to a Year of Revolution”. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 13.1 (2012): 33–42. Web.
York’s article describes the introduction of the internet in Arab countries along with the emergence of social media and blogging in the 2000s. She ultimately aims to counter the notion that Arab spring internet activism occurred spontaneously by arguing that activists laid the foreground for internet activism in the decade leading up to the uprisings of 2011.
Keywords: social media, blogs, activism
Skalli, Loubna H.. “Communicating Gender in the Public Sphere: Women and Information Technologies in the MENA”. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 2.2 (2006): 35–59. Web.
This paper specifically focuses on women’s use of information and communication technology in the MENA region and considers their role in old and new media spheres. Loubna argues that women involved in journalism, blogging, publishing, film, television, and research have shaped and influenced the public sphere to produce alternative discourses about womanhood, citizenship, and political participation.
Keywords: blogs, ICTs, gender
Al-Radhi, Alaadin, Arash Abadpour, Fahd Btayneh, Fred Andon Petrossians, Rafik Dammak, and Mohamed Omran. Internet Governance: The Quest for an Open Internet in the Middle East and North Africa. Publication. Hivos, n.d. Web.
HIVOS’s report tracks the effects of political unrest on Internet openness in six countries; Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Syria. Each country’s chapter covers two categories: 1. Local laws regarding Internet openness, transparency, access to information, and freedom of speech. 2. Interactions between civil society, businesses, and governmental bodies concerning issues of Internet governance.
Keywords: internet governance, freedom of expression, transparency
There is not a great deal of research on internet policymaking in Afghanistan. The emphasis tends to focus on ICT use and access, as well as analyses of telecommunications policy. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net global reports have never published data on Afghanistan.
Hamdard, Javid. The State of Telecoms and Internet in Afghanistan (2006-2012). Publication. USAID, Mar. 2012. Web.
This report by Internews and USAID provides a comprehensive overview of the ICT sector in Afghanistan during the six year period from 2006-2012. Hamdard’s research shows tremendous growth in the Afghan telecommunications sector through comparing 2012 and 2006 data on telecommunication usage, employment in the sector, internet service providers, and government policy.
Keywords: ICT, ISPs, internet penetration, internet governance
Sengupta, Ami, Esther G. Long, Arvind Singhal, and Corinne L. Shefner-Rogers. “The Sada Says `We Women Have Our Rights’: A Gender Analysis of an ICT Initiative in Afghanistan.” International Communication Gazette 69.4 (2007): 335-53. Web.
This study examines women’s interactions with Voice for Humanity’s Sada initiative, which delivered civic and voter education to Afghans prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections via solar-powered digital audio players. The researchers held focus groups to learn about the successes and drawbacks of an ICT program engaging and empowering Afghan women.
Keywords: gender, ICT, politics
Although Bahrain boasts one of the highest internet penetration rates in the Middle East (96.4% in 2014), there is very little scholarly research on its internet policy. The minimal research that exists focuses on issues of surveillance and filtering. There is also research on business and ICT, as Bahrain acts as a regional hub for many ICT companies and hosts the MEET ICT conference.
“Bahrain.” Reporters Without Borders. N.p., 08 Mar. 2013. Web.
Reporters Without Borders’ overview on Bahrain touches on internet penetration, surveillance, freedom of information violations, and technical solutions. The organization added Bahrain to its list of “Internet Enemies” in 2012 due to very high levels of internet filtering, surveillance, and malware dissemination. According to the report, Bahrain’s royal family controls most of the country’s censoring and own Batelco, the leading Internet Service Provider.
Keywords: internet governance, ISPs, internet penetration
Janet J. Palmer, Internet access in Bahrain: business patterns and problems, Technovation, Volume 20, Issue 8, August 2000, Pages 451-458, ISSN 0166-4972, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0166-4972(99)00181-9.
This survey analyzes problems and successes associated with Internet subscription for businesses in Bahrain. The survey spanned several industries ranging from financial services to hospitality and noted that the primary obstacles were the slow speed of Internet transactions and lack of secure encryption for transferring money.
Keywords: connectivity, business, information technology
Egypt’s politics have changed drastically since the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, which has affected its internet policies. In September 2014, el-Sisi’s regime instituted a law banning acts that are “harmful to the national interest,” which has been expanded to apply to online activism. Another similar law, the antiterrorism law, passed in August 2015. Internet penetration in Egypt is fairly low due to poor infrastructure and high costs at about 32% penetration by the end of 2014.
Hirschkind, Charles. “From the Blogosphere to the Street: Social Media and Egyptian Revolution”. Oriente Moderno 91.1 (2011): 61–74. Web.
In this article, Hirschkind demonstrates that the role of social media and blogging in the early 2000s was instrumental in sparking the Egyptian uprising in 2011. He wrote this article during the uprising in 2011 and describes the emergence of 1000s of activist blogs that allied with the opposition movement against Mubarak.
Keywords: social media, blogs, activism
“Egypt.” Freedom on the Net. Freedom House, 2015. Web.
Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net assessment of Egypt is the most thorough and current report on internet surveillance, censorship, and penetration in the country. The article outlines developments in internet freedom from June 2014-May 2015 such as the 2015 antiterrorism law, imprisonment for journalists and activists, and violence against civilians for religious speech on Facebook. Although Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not blocked by the Egyptian government, the article notes that many internet users engage in self-censorship out of fear.
Keywords: internet governance, internet penetration, activism
Iranians were among the first in the MENA region to penetrate the internet and have a strong culture of blogging, termed “The Blogestan.” However, like other countries in the MENA region, Iran has a record of imprisoning online political dissidents. President Rouhani has promised to improve internet rights, yet many sites are still blocked. Internet infrastructure has improved under his leadership with an internet bandwidth increase of 2.5 from 2014-2015.
Milani, Abbas. “Iran’s Hidden Cyberjihad”. Foreign Policy 180 (2010): 110–111. Web.
This brief article explains online surveillance and disruption methods during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Milani points out several examples of “cyberjihad” (a term coined by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps), such as hacking opposition sites, influencing chat rooms, and heightened censorship laws.
Keywords: censorship, internet governance, politics, religion
Sreberny, Annabelle, and Gholam Khiabany. “Becoming Intellectual: The Blogestan and Public Political Space in the Islamic Republic”. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 34.3 (2007): 267–286. Web.
Sreberny and Khiabany aim to provide a more nuanced overview of the blogosphere in Iran by addressing both oppositional and religious blogs. This article has a more sociological bent and contemplates the meaning of intellectuals in internet-age Iran, and contains a significant but outdated account of Iranian internet connectivity.
Keywords: blogs, connectivity, politics, religion
Bucar, Elizabeth M., and Roja Fazaeli. “Free Speech in Weblogistan? The Offline Consequences of Online Communication”. International Journal of Middle East Studies 40.3 (2008): 403–419. Web.
Bucar and Fazaeli criticize the Western view of the “Weblogistan” as an open medium, free of censorship restrictions faced by the Iranian print media. This article refutes this view by exposing stories of three Iranian bloggers who were arrested for content criticizing the government.
Keywords: blogs, internet governance, politics
“Iran.” Freedom on the Net. Freedom House, 2015. Web.
Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net assessment of Iran is the most thorough and current report on internet surveillance, censorship, and penetration in the country. The article outlines developments in internet freedom from June 2014-May 2015 such as the increased funding for ICT infrastructure and filtering, blocked news sites, and the arrest and sentencing of Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani. The article also addresses Iran’s high costs despite having some of the slowest connection speeds in the world, which President Rouhani is trying to address.
Keywords: internet governance, censorship, internet penetration, ICT
Iraq has been ravaged by war for over a decade, so research on Iraq’s internet usage and policies is outdated. There has been no scholarly research on Iraq’s internet landscape since ISIS invaded, however news articles indicate that the Iraqi government is trying to limit ISIS’s cyber activities. Research from earlier in the decade focuses on internet penetration and ICTs, however there is no literature on internet governance.
Al-Hammadany, Firas H., and Almas Heshmati. “Determinants Of Internet Use In Iraq.” International Journal Of Communication (19328036) 5.(2011): 1967-1989. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web.
This paper addresses the challenges Iraq has faced with the advent of the Internet, such as penetration, connectivity, and changing modes of communication. The authors have compiled and analyzed a brief literature review on determinants of Internet use and then provide a highly technical breakdown of their data findings.
Keywords: internet penetration, connectivity
Alyasiri, H.; Abdulbaqi, N., “Proposed policy for Iraqi ICT sector (part I),” in Future Communication Networks (ICFCN), 2012 International Conference on , vol., no., pp.129-134, 2-5 April 2012 doi: 10.1109/ICFCN.2012.6206855
This policy proposal, written by two Senior Technical Advisors in the Iraqi Ministry of Communications, outlines a technical plan for implementing infrastructure and explains relevant demographical considerations. The report provides a very comprehensive overview of plans to increase penetration and fiber optic networks in Iraq.
Keywords: ICT, internet penetration, connectivity
Much of the research on Israel’s internet policies focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how this shapes internet use. Israel has the most advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the Middle East and is commonly referred to as the “Start-up Nation,” which is reflected in the research on its ICT sector.
Ganayem, Asmaa N.1. “Internet Diffusion And Adoption Within Arab-Palestinian Society In Israel.” Journal Of Educational Technology 9.1 (2012): 56-67. Education Source. Web.
This paper examines Internet use among the Arab-Palestinian community in Israel over the past decade by researching both technical infrastructure as well as sociological factors that affect access for this community. Ganayem compares Internet usage rates between Jews at 80% and Arabs at 60% and seeks to explain this discrepancy by looking at metrics such as education level, religion, gender, district, and purpose of usage.
Keywords: internet penetration, politics, conflict, demographics
Lissitsa, Sabina, and Svetlana Chachashvili-Bolotin. “Use of the Internet in Capital Enhancing Ways– Ethnic Differences in Israel and the Role of Language Proficiency.” International Journal of Internet Science 9.1 (2014): 9-30. Web.
This study reviews the first and second level digital divides between immigrants from Ethiopia, Western countries, the Former Soviet Union, and Jewish veterans in Israel. Lissitsa and Chachasvili-Bolotin initially evaluate relevant literature and then present their hypotheses and results, which reveal that socio-economic variables and Hebrew proficiency were primary factors that influenced internet use.
Keywords: connectivity, demographics
Raviv, Oren, and Dan Yachin. Israeli ICT Industry Review. Rep. Israel Advanced Technology Institutes, Jan. 2015. Web.
This review provides a thorough analysis of 2014 developments in Israel’s ICT industry by evaluating industry dynamics, trends, and leading Israeli tech companies. The report is broken down into several sub-industries ranging from digital games to security to home automation.
Keywords: ICT, security
According to Freedom House, Jordan’s internet ranks as “partially free,” however its internet freedom conditions are getting worse, in large part due to fears over ISIS. Scholarly research focuses on ICTs and internet cafes, which are especially popular in the country.
Madi, Ramzi. “Internet Surfing in Jordan: Overviews and Monitoring.” Arab Law Quarterly 26.2 (2012): 241-47. Brill. Web.
This article reviews a critical piece of Jordanian legislation for Internet penetration, the Instructions for Regulating the Work of the Internet Centers and Cafes and the Bases for their Licenses. The bill was first introduced in 2011 and has been amended since to include filtering of sites containing content about sex, drugs, or gambling on Internet Café computers as well as increased surveillance.
Keywords: internet café, internet governance, internet penetration
ICT & ITES Industry and Statistics Yearbook. Rep. Information and Communications Technology Association – Jordan, 2014. Web.
This statistical report presents data on the growth of Jordan’s IT sector revenues domestically and abroad from 2000-2014. The report also reveals data about employment in Jordan’s IT sector by location, gender, and department. Although it provides very little analysis, the report provides several graphs and charts that provide insight on Jordan’s IT sector.
Keywords: demographics, information technology
Most of the scholarly research on Kuwait’s internet focuses on citizens’ attitudes and preferences, rather than the government’s internet policies. The research below discusses moral issues on the internet such as pornography, nationalism, and sectarianism. Research on ICTs, infrastructure, and internet governance in Bahrain are scant.
Al-Kandari, Ali, and Mohammed Hasanen. “The Impact of the Internet on Political Attitudes in Kuwait and Egypt.” Telematics and Informatics 29.3 (2012): 245-53. ResearchGate. Web.
This study reports findings from a survey administered to Egyptian and Kuwaiti university students about use of Internet applications for political efficacy, engagement, and knowledge. Compared to Egyptian university students, Kuwaiti university students used the Internet at a far higher rate (91% v. 78%) with many Kuwaitis engaged on Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger. The authors believe that socioeconomic factors influence these statistics, with the Kuwaiti average annual income at $20,000 compared to Egypt’s $2,000. This study was conducted prior to the Egyptian revolution so data may be outdated.
Keywords: social media, demographics, politics
Abbas, Hasan A., and Salah M. Fadhli. “The Ethical Dilemma of Internet Pornography in the State of Kuwait.” SIGCAS Comput. Soc. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society 38.3 (2008): 22-33. ResearchGate. Web.
This article provides a philosophical debate on Internet ethics and pornography by drawing upon Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill as well as a research study on Kuwaiti university students’ awareness and viewing of porn sites. They also researched public opinion on porn and found that most Kuwaitis support censorship of pornography, which the authors believe is due to religious belief in Islam which holds a conservative ideology against pornography.
Keywords: religion, censorship
Dashti, Ali A., Ali A. Al-Kandari, and Hamed H. Al-Abdullah. “The Influence of Sectarian and Tribal Discourse in Newspapers Readers’ Online Comments about Freedom of Expression, Censorship and National Unity in Kuwait.” Telematics and Informatics 32.2 (2015): 245-53. ResearchGate. Web.
This study evaluates sectarian and tribal discourse in newspapers readers’ online comments. These forums reveal local attitudes about Shi’ites and Bedouins, who are seen as disloyal to Kuwait and uncivilized. According to the authors, these online comment forums incite hostility among social groups and divide society. Many students who participated in this study believe that these comments should be censored because they are damaging to Kuwaiti national unity.
Keywords: politics, demographics
Lebanon’s internet was rated “partially free” in 2015 by Freedom House. Despite the Syrian crisis its internet freedom conditions have remained fairly static, however, there is very little research on Lebanon’s internet policies and filtering. Most of the research highlights Lebanon’s ICT sector and posits goals for future development.
“Progress Report 2013.” Ministry of Telecommunications. Ed. Minstere Des Telecoms. Republic of Lebanon, 2014. Web.
This progress report, published by the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications with help by consultants from Booz & Co., presents the ministry’s strategy for expanding Lebanon’s digital economy. The 2013 report projected that by 2017 the ICT sector will increase GDP by $2 billion and create 11,000 jobs. The report categorizes ICT agenda goals and provides brief statistics on the status quo as compared to moderate projections of the ministry’s ICT Vision accompanied by thorough explanations of these goals.
Keywords: ICT, business
“Analysis of Lebanon’s ICT Sector.” Bankmed. Ed. BankMed – Market & Economic Research Division. N.p., Apr. 2014. Web.
This report provides a comprehensive overview of the ICT sector in Lebanon and ranks Lebanon as one of the highest in the Middle East on the ICT Development Index. The report highlights strengths and weaknesses in various segments of Lebanon’s ICT market and also evaluates Lebanon’s E-Government Development Index (EGDI), which measures a government’s willingness and capacity to use ICTs to deliver public services.
Keywords: ICT, internet governance
Research on Palestine’s internet focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and evaluates methods of nonviolent resistance on the internet, as well as potential obstacles such as limited connectivity. There is also research on ICT and infrastructure in Palestine, but not much on internet governance.
Aouragh, Miriyam. Palestine Online: Transnationalism, the Internet and the Construction of Identity. London: I.B. Tauris Academic Studies, 2011. Print.
This book demonstrates the critical role the Internet has played in the modern formation of Palestinian national and transnational identity. The author sheds light on the media exchange between Palestinian diaspora communities in attempting to reconstruct a virtual “Palestinian homeland” and considers the way these connections are used and limited during wartime.
Keywords: social media, connectivity, politics, conflict
Benedikter, Roland, and Davide Ziveri. “The Global Imaginary, New Media and Sociopolitical Innovation in the Periphery: The Practical Case of an Internet-based Empowerment Project in Palestine and Israel.” Continuum 28.4 (2013): 439-53. Web.
This article explores Palestinian use of digital technologies to further their campaign of non-violent resistance through the “Nonviolence 2.0” Internet empowerment project. The Nonviolence 2.0 project described in this paper uses ICT-based new media to create a public space for documenting political and social situations on the ground to legitimate non-violent activism.
Keywords: activism, conflict, ICT, politics
The ICT Sector in the Palestinian Territory. Rep. The Portland Trust, Aug. 2012. Web.
This brief report documents the growth of the Palestinian ICT sector, which was deemed one of the leading sectors in the Palestinian economy. The report shows increased penetration in the Palestinian community from 2004-2011, with 95% of Palestinians owning mobile phones in 2011. It also sheds light on persisting challenges to the development of the ICT sector such as restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities.
Keywords: ICT, politics
The Syrian Civil War has destroyed most of Syria’s telecommunications infrastructure and disconnected Syrian internet service providers. Citizen journalists and bloggers have been active in documenting human rights abuses, however many have been persecuted. ISIS has used social media sources such as Twitter and YouTube to rally support. Syria was rated one of the worst countries for internet rights in 2015.
De Angelis, Enrico. “Syrian News Websites: A Negotiated Identity”. Oriente Moderno 91.1 (2011): 105–124. Web.
This article discusses the prevalence of Syrian news websites in online consumption and the influence these sites have had on the Syrian political sphere. De Angelis deliberately focuses on news outlets rather than blogs and social media, because news outlets had a far larger following and were less restricted by the government. He evaluates Syrian legislation regarding online journalism as well as the different news outlets and their relationship with civil society. NOTE: This article may provide interesting background on the Internet in Syria, however it is before the Civil War so many things are most likely no longer true.
Keywords: internet governance, journalism
“Syria.” Freedom on the Net. Freedom House, 2015. Web.
Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net assessment of Syria is the most thorough and current report on internet surveillance, censorship, and penetration in the country. The article outlines developments in internet freedom from June 2014-May 2015 such as the murder of 12 online activists by both regime and rebel forces, cyberattacks by ISIS affiliates on Syrian citizen journalists, and extensive filtering of websites. The Civil War has destroyed telecommunications infrastructure and disconnected about two thirds of the country from Syrian internet providers with only 28% of Syrians accessing the internet by the end of 2014.
Keywords: internet governance, censorship, internet penetration, connectivity, conflict
Research on Turkey is highly comprehensive and covers a wide range of issues such as ICTs, internet access and usership, and internet governance. Turkey has received a lot of scholarly attention due to President Reccip Erdogan’s outright animosity towards the internet and enactment of controversial and far reaching laws, such as Law No. 5651.
Akdeniz, Yaman, and Kerem Altıparmak. Internet: Restricted Access: A Critical Assessment of Internet Content Regulation and Censorship in Turkey. Rep. İnsan Hakları Ortak Platformu, 25 Nov. 2008. Web.
This report provides a comprehensive overview of legislation regulating internet content in Turkey, with a particular focus on Law No. 5651. The authors assess the various ways these laws are applied and criticize their infringement on freedom of expression, privacy, and fair trials.
Keywords: internet governance, freedom of expression, privacy
Akgül, Mustafa and Melih Kırlıdoğ. “Internet censorship in Turkey”. Internet Policy Review 4.2 (2015). Web.
This paper discusses the evolution of Turkish censorship by tracing the effects of Law No. 5651, an internet censorship law first introduced in 2007 that promoted a “clean Internet” for the protection of family values. The authors provide several examples where this law has been stretched and used to block oppositional websites, Twitter, and blogs. The paper also notes that websites supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda derivatives are not blocked, even though they openly disseminate ISIS propaganda.
Keywords: social media, internet governance, blogs
Nisbet, Erik C., Aysenur Dal, Golnoosh Behrouzian, and Ali Çarkoğlu. Benchmarking Demand: Turkey’s Contested Internet. Publication. CGCS, Oct. 2015. Web.
This report seeks to understand how people in Turkey perceive and value the debate over Internet freedoms in Turkey and how they employ the Internet and social media as alternative information resources within a heavily censored mass media environment. The authors provide a comprehensive analysis of internet use among Turkish citizens and break down data based on demographics.
Keywords: social media, censorship, demographics
Polat, Rabia Karakaya. “Digital Exclusion in Turkey: A Policy Perspective.” Government Information Quarterly 29.4 (2012): 589-96. ScienceDirect. Web.
This paper explores the digital divide and its effect on disadvantaged populations in Turkey. The author compares and contrasts government policies pertaining to the digital divide and those bolstering ICTs in Turkey.
Keywords: internet governance, ICT, demographics