Report on the West Asia regional meeting for the WSIS in Damascus
  22-24 November 2004, Damacsus, Syria
  By the Arab NGO Network for Development

6 December 2004. The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) has been following the processes of preparations and mobilization towards the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Tunisia, since the beginning of the year 2004. ANND's interest in the WSIS process was raised after the participation of Arab civil society organizations was limited and symbolic in the first phase of the summit in Geneva.

Information society was of high priority for the Region, according to the Arab human development report issued by UNDP in 2003. ANND believes that information society and information and communication technologies could play an important role in strengthening the process of development. ANND aims at strengthening the participation of Arab civil society organizations in the process of the WSIS, after it was noticeably limited and shy in the first phase of the Summit, which was held in Geneva in 2003. Accordingly, ANND seeks to contribute to building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where the potential of information and communication technology is harnessed to promote the development goals of the Millennium Declaration.

ANND was invited by "Sisterhood is Global" to take part in the Arab civil society regional preparatory meeting: "Towards a More Just Information Society", which was held in Amman, Jordan, during September 2004. Therefore, ANND participated with a paper linking information and communication technologies to development. Also, ANND took part in the Arab Caucus which gathered as a result of the meeting in Jordan. The Arab Caucus includes several Arab civil society organizations that are involved in the preparatory process towards Tunisia.

Through participating and following-up on various preparatory meetings for the Summit, ANND aims at increasing awareness on the process of preparations for the WSIS phase II and to enhance the presence of Arab human rights and development-oriented organizations in the process.

Civil Society Arab Caucus Meeting

In line with the workings of the meeting, ANND called for a meeting for the Arab Caucus to follow-up on the discussions that have been taking place so far on the list-serve The meeting was attended by 12 representatives of civil society organizations involved in the process of the WSIS, including people that did not attend the preparatory meeting in Jordan. It was a good opportunity to exchange information regarding the upcoming preparations for the Summit. Mr. Moustafa El Masmoudi, the representative of the Network of Arab NGOs located in Egypt and that of the civil society bureau related to the African and Asian Caucuses of organizers, talked about the plans of the official organizers of the WSIS- Tunisia. On the other hand, members of the Arab Caucus resulting from the Jordan meeting talked about the preparations they are planning for the upcoming period.

The meeting was a good opportunity to listen to perspectives of various regional stakeholders in the WSIS process, including representatives of Arab governments, participants from the private sector, and representatives of Arab civil society organizations. Yet, it was clear that the participation of Arab civil society groups was very limited compared to participation of other groups. This could indicate a negative sign regarding the participation of Arab civil society organizations in the preparatory process of the Summit. Accordingly, one of the main recommendations that resulted from the meeting of the Arab Caucus was the need for urgent and quick action for mobilizing Arab civil society groups for registering for accreditation in the preparatory process of the WSIS.

The first day of the three-day meeting included presentations of the projects that make up the work plan proposed by ESCWA and its partners in the process of the WSIS. It could be noted that the work plan was primarily a private sector initiative, with minimal participation of civil society organizations. However, the ESCWA work plan is still open for accepting proposals.

On the other hand, there was a significant weakness in organizing the panels due to the disparity of the papers assigned per panel in many cases, which had a negative impact on the discussions. In addition, there was a limited time for questions and answers after the presentations in many of the panels which were held. This in turn limited the ability to integrate new perspectives and ideas in the papers and proposals that were introduced. Moreover, it was clear that most of the presentations tended to go into the technicalities of the WSIS process more than its linkages to social development policies.

In the end, it could be highlighted that there is a need for increased coordination and involvement of civil society organizations from the Arab region in the preparatory processes of the Summit. Also, there is a need to look into the follow-up mechanisms of the Tunisia phase, which Arab civil society organizations could uphold, thus pushing to bring in the socio-economic dimension of this process. This is specifically important given that Tunisia will be a Summit geared towards working on mechanisms for implementing the work plan which resulted from the first phase of the Summit held in Geneva. In specific, the upcoming Summit will aim at completing the discussions on issues of financing of the implementation process and the internet governance.



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