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Democracy in the Middle East? A Snapshot from ICANN

Democracy in the Middle East is a controversial and evolving issue, but it was on grand display among members of a new ICANN working group



ICANN’s Policy Development Process Infographic, in Arabic.

ICANN's new Middle East and Adjoining Countries Strategy Working Group (MEAC SWG) is set to build on the work of the 2013-2016 group, focusing on the domain name industry, domain name system (DNS) security, and Internet governance ecosystem in the MEAC region (22 Arab states and Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan).

The working group’s first mission this summer was to choose its leaders. The process of choosing a chair and vice chair illustrated democratic preferences and practices across the region. The 48 members were asked to nominate candidates. The working group’s guidelines for the several candidates were to try to come to some consensus on who should fill each position. After a few days of nominations and negotiations among the nominees, an agreement was reached and announced.

What followed was a vigorous debate among the members. Dozens of group emails criss-crossed the region, not about who should be chair and vice chair, but about the process. Some pointed to the original guidelines, indicating they should, and had been, followed. But others clamored for a voice in the process. They wanted a vote by all the members, not just a private settlement among the nominees.

A special conference call for committee members was convened. The tone was civil and cooperative, but the message was unmistakable. As one member stated simply and urgently, “My objection is not to the people, my objection is to the process…. [The members] did not have a say” in who the chair and vice chair would be.

The conference call permitted any member to contribute his or her opinions, and many did. In the end, the group and its ICANN staff support agreed: a new call for nominations was followed by a vote among all the members.

The substantive work of MEAC SWG is now well underway. Its work is intended to contribute significantly to Internet growth in the greater Middle East. But its initial taskspirited, robust demands by its members to select its leadership in a transparent, democratic process, and the consensual management of organizing itself democraticallyis itself illuminating.

The author is a 2016-2019 member of ICANN MEAC SWG. 
A version of this post originally appeared on the Foreign Policy Assn's blog.
Photo: ICANN,

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