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The Internet Multistakeholder Governance Model

On the occasion of the Fourth Arab Internet Governance Forum in Beirut, the Internet Society Lebanon Chapter and Maharat Foundation, in cooperation with Hivos organized a round table meeting entitled "The Internet Multi-stakeholder Governance Model”. The event took place at the Monroe Hotel in Beirut on December 15th, 2015.

The round table was moderated by Gabriel Deek, Vice President of Internet Society Lebanon Chapter and many high profiles public figures participated in the event. They included: Roula Mikhael, Executive Director of the Maharat Foundation; Nabil Bukhalid, President of the Internet Society Lebanon Chapter; Dr. Nabil Fahd, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut and Mount Lebanon; Deputy Ghassan Moukheiber; Deputy Yassine Jaber;  Judge Wassim Al Hajjar who is responsible for the Legal Information Center at the Ministry of Justice; Dr. Charbel El Kareh, Chairman of the Committee of Information and Modern Technology at the Beirut Bar Association; Dr. Nibal Idlebi, of the Innovation Section at UN-ESCWA; Dr. Walid Raad, head of the Arts and Communication Department at the Lebanese International University; and Hamza Ben Mehrez, Hivos policy analyst lead of IGMENA Program.

The objective of the meeting was to assess if the partnership between the Internet stakeholders in Lebanon is healthy and effective and to identify policies and procedure that might improve that partnership and make it more effective. Gabriel Deek opened the discussions by exposing the Internet wide potential to expand and to be more open and more inclusive. What is required is a better understanding of the Internet Multi-stakeholder Governance model and its premises by government player who are skeptical and somehow afraid of the active contribution of normal citizens, academics, NGOs and industries in the policy making processes.

Nabil Bukhalid said that the Internet is a network of networks and each of the networks and the Internet services hosted on that network and the users accessing the Internet from that network are governed by a set of rules that the users of that network agreed upon. So, by extrapolation, each and every Internet user is involved in the governance of the Internet.  All the users and actors have a common interest and responsibility to facilitate the access and operation of the Internet in a reliable and secure manner. Thus, the "multistakeholder model" makes it easier to agree on common standards, such as open source standards, and making such standard available at minimal reproduction costs or for free. Keeping in mind that the internet was originally developed by end-users to serve end-users, unlike other services such as mobile services that were designed for profit. From the Internet Society perspective, the state, international organizations like the League of Arab States, Internet Service Providers, Research centers and civil society are all stakeholders and should be involved in the discussions leading to a real bottom-up multi-stakeholder Internet governance structure.

Dr. Nabil Fahd presented his experience with the establishment of the Lebanese Internet Center (LINC), which was developed as a not-for-profit association governed by a bottom-up public/private multi-stakeholder board and mandated with the management of the Lebanese top level domain registry “.lb ccTLD” registry. LINC founding board is formed by key Internet stakeholders in Lebanon and the center bylaws stipulate that LINC membership is inclusive and self-perpetuating. LINC founding members include the Beirut Bar Association, Association of ISPs, the Ministry of Economy and Trade, the CCIAB, ISOC Lebanon, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, The Association of CIOs, Balamand University, Berytech, etc. Fahd added that "unfortunately, after the establishment of LINC, the Ministry of Telecommunication has put many restrictions and tried to hamper its mission for some unknown reasons. In fact, we are now looking for solutions so that the center becomes part of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in order to be operational.”

Dr. Nibal Idlebi, said that it is not always very convenient to involve all of the stakeholders from citizens, professional associations and private and public institutions in the drafting of laws and the Internet in Lebanon suffers to restrictions and control similar to what we see in other Arab countries. However, the adoption of the E-Transactions law on the protection of personal data would be considered as an example in other Arab countries of a global and extensive law that is a product of an open consultation multi-stakeholder process.

Judge Wassim Al Hajjar, a long standing member of the subcommittee working on the E-Transaction law, talked about his experience working on this legislation that has been examined by several committees over 15 years. During this period he worked on several versions of the law but the 2011 draft involved wide open consultations. Many professional associations and subject matter experts got involved in the process. Dr. Al Hajjar added that the committee tried to align the bill with international law. He also mentioned that the latest version of the bill is good he added that the Parliament should ratify it without further due.

Dr. Charbel El Kareh focused his talk on the role of the Beirut Bar Association (BBA) in the field of IT and Internet. He confirmed that for over two year now, BBA boosted its involvement and active participation in Internet governance, especially after the establishment of the Information Center and modern technology which represented the BBA in several local and regional conferences related to IT and Internet governance. Dr. Kareh said that the BBA is a founding member of LINC, serves on the board of ISOC Lebanon and that they started to include civil society in everything linked to the Internet sector.

Deputy Ghassan Moukheiber concluded by saying that in Lebanon there is a culture of involving all of the concerned parties in new legislation. Yet the problem resides in the existing laws and the lack of transparency in the work of committees. He also pointed out that the awareness of citizens is a crucial factor.

Deputy Yassin Jaber said that some Internet governance stakeholders make positive contributions while others work against good Internet governance. He mentioned that the problem is not the passage of laws protecting Internet freedom, but the need for concrete implementation and monitoring mechanisms.  The Lebanese state failed systematically in the implementation of laws, and some laws and decrees disappear completely because of the unwillingness of the concerned Ministries to implement these laws. He said that there are good laws, such as the one related to the financial market, which involved all of the concerned parties and in which Lebanon has benefited from the successful experiences of other countries. However, the law was not implemented. The same can be said for the electronic transactions bill that was created with the objective of protecting citizens’ rights and was not intended to restrict freedoms.It was one of the most important and extensive laws on electronic transactions in the Arab region, but in enforcement, the political scene is disrupting the functioning of institutions and not allowing parliament to exercise legislative and oversight roles.

Roula Mikhael presented a summary of the Maharat report on Freedom of Internet in Lebanon which highlights that Internet governance is an important indicator of Internet freed om. The information provided by the report indicated that Lebanon could have been a model environment for Internet governance. However, there has been no political will. One example is the Cairo proposal made by the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunication to the Arab League in December 2014. The Lebanese position document was the product of the Ministry of Telecommunication without consultation with the Internet stakeholders and it was presented with clear insulation that it was the product of the Arab Internet Governance Meeting that preceded it in Beirut. Until today we don’t know what was proposed and if the proposal reflect the Lebanese Internet stakeholders outlooks or not. The shear fact that until today we don’t know what was put on the table of the Arab League in the name of the Lebanese people tells a lot about the lack of transparency and multi-stakeholder involvement. Mrs. Mikhael highlighted that promoting the concept of multi-stakeholders in Internet governance is one of the core missions at Maharat and we work toward increasing the general public awareness and by informing and educating the media.

Deputy Moukheiber highlighted that the principles of multistakeholderism are common practice within the Lebanese legislative process. He added that particularly in the preparation of the right to access to information law and  the proposal of the media law which was drafted with wide participation from stakeholder and which included Internet freedom principles that protect citizens from imprisonment  in cases where they publish or express opinions online. Dr. Idlebi and Nabil Bukhalid reinforced Deputy Moukheiber comments and added that the E-Transaction draft law was also publish for general public comments and that the drafting committee reviewed the received comments and discussed them in a general meeting at the Grand Serial and  incorporated the outcome in the final draft.

Dr. Waleed Raad questioned the rights of the authority that is “governing” the online space in Lebanon. He said that "the Internet must remain as a free space, but its administration is actually confined to public institutions such as parliament, government, and security authorities, which mean that the state is controlling this sector without any transparency". He added that after the Snowdon case, there are increasing fears that the Internet is used as a spying tool, but are those fears justified?

Hamza Ben Mehrez presented the Tunisian experience in the field of internet governance, pointing out that all actors are involved in, including political parties and civil society. He also highlighted the importance of Article 32 of the new Tunisian Constitution that guarantees the role of different stakeholders in Internet governance.  Article 32 stipulates that “The state guarantees the right to information and the right to network communication” and the Alliance for Article 32 reflects the commitment of civil society, academia, the public and private sector to strengthen civil society joint actions and build consensus to guarantee the preservation of Article 32 in the Tunisian Constitution. In summary, the Internet governance in Tunisia is based on the principles of multi-stakeholderism.

The debate was followed by interesting point of views and contributions from the large group of attendees and the media. 

Media coverage of the round table: Assafir; L’Orient Le Jour; Elnashra; Lebanon Files; NNA; Maharat News.

Dear ISOC Lebanon members,

You are cordially invited to participate in a public roundtable on “The Internet Multistakeholder Governance Model” on Tuesday December 15, 2015 at 6:00 pm at Monroe Hotel, Ain El Mreisseh.

“The multistakeholder model of Internet governance is the best mechanism for maintaining an open, resilient, and secure Internet because, among other things, it is informed by a broad foundation of interested parties – including businesses, technical experts, civil society, and governments – arriving at consensus through a bottom-up process regarding policies affecting the underlying functioning of the Internet ecosystem.”

The debate will be moderated by Mr. Gaby Deek with a panel of distinguished speakers, including Mrs. Rola Mikael, Mr. Nabil Bukhalid, Dr. Nabil Fahd, Dr. Charbel El Kareh, Dr. Nibal Idlibi, Deputy Ghassan Mukheiber, Deputy Yassin Jaber, Judge Wassim Hajjar, Dr. Walid Raed, and Mr. Hamzah Bin Mahraz.

The session is organized in collaboration with Maharat. Please find the original invite in Arabic.

Looking forward for your active participation in the public debate.

Best regards,

Nabil Bukhalid