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The World Summit on the Information Society: Why Tunisia? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Many of us were extremely perplexed by the Tunisian government”s dedication in hosting the World Summit on the Information Society despite the country”s well-known reputation for hindering the transferring and exchanging of information. What is even more bizarre is the organization”s interest in Tunisia as a host for the first summit of this kind considering that the country”s practices contradict the ideas of the meeting.

Tunisia, economically and socially, has been a successful country; however, it is notorious for political dilemmas. In addition, Tunisia is known as one of the weakest countries of ensuring freedoms and one of the strongest in its task of curbing freedoms.

It is for this reason that Tunisia has brought upon itself a number of problems by accepting to host this summit, which as a result, further scrutiny of the political and security systems has been its strongest for twenty years.

When I questioned one of those concerned with the Tunisian situation about the reasoning behind that country accepting to host such an event, he replied that the Tunisian President admires information technology and was one of the first Arab leaders to have sound knowledge of it. He further added that the Tunisian president always has access to a computer, whether at home or at work and that he wants to develop information technology to improve education and other services.

The President”s enthusiasm for the development of information technology may be a genuine one and may be the reason behind Tunisia”s transformation into the modern era; however, it does not rationalize the country”s involvement of the information summit.

It is evident that the organizers of the event are uninformed of technology matters, as they would have realized on arrival to Tunisia that the internet services are inadequate due to the blocking of many international websites. The organization must have lost its direction en route to its destination where the development of technology runs smoothly.

Throughout the Arab world, there are many countries that are more open concerning the field of information technology such as Egypt or Jordan.

Throughout the duration of the summit, many protests, strikes and international media debates spoke of the restrictions upon freedom in Tunisia whilst the international mass media chose to ignore the issue.

Tunisia”s way and the pact to which the conference”s participants had agreed merely reflect contradictions. In a country of ten million people, half of which are internet users, such a hosting was incompatible.

Furthermore, is it coincidental that Qatar will be opening a regional center for human rights, despite the country suffering from disgraceful violations of human rights? This causes one to question why Arab countries would host events that disagree with its practices.

Does Tunisia believe that hosting the world summit on the information society will portray the image of a free country merely because it welcomed 170 delegations from all over the world? What difference will a furnished flat, labeled as a human rights office make in Qatar? Do they believe that this will cause people to ignore the violations of freedoms in their country?

Such beliefs are certainly incorrect, as the recent summit in Tunisia has rather highlighted the practice of information restrictions as well as other violations of law.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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