Three years after the start of the Arab uprisings, the challenges faced by digital activists and bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa had shifted substantially in 2014, which is when we were invited to speak at this fantastic meeting of bloogers from the Arab Spring. . While in some countries the Internet and speech rights are considerably more free, others face continued and significant surveillance, censorship, and significant threats of violence or imprisonment. Uncertainty about the future and political polarization have made attempted transitions to democracy difficult and often times painful, especially for those of us, netizens, who supported and helped drive it.
Uncertainty about the role of netizens themselves in a post- “Arab Spring” MENA has for some given way to frustration and uncertainty about what to do next. Others fear a digital counter-revolution at a time when organized non-state actors and governments are developing sophisticated surveillance tactics, sometimes working hand-in-hand with private companies. Rights-restrictive legislation is also on the rise. Laws built to limit free speech online are mushrooming across the region, exposing netizens to threats of prosecution and imprisonment.
The Heinrich Böll-Global Voices 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 with each other prior to the Arab uprisings. This network helped has helped us all to share activist strategies and tactics, learn from each other, and work together.
We believe there’s a need, today more than ever, for a meeting of this kind. While there have been other meetings on digital security and training in the past three years, they have been often driven by external agendas, focused on narrow themes, meant for a specific group of activists or targeting sub-regional publics. The Arab Bloggers Conferences have distinguished themselves by being spaces created primarily by local activ