Cyber Security in the Maghreb and Machrek region

In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as elsewhere in the world, monitoring email and internet activity, content filtering, cyber attacks against certain websites and internet service interruption are all techniques used to limit freedom of expression, manipulate information and suppress dissent.

In Syria, there is talk of a strategy of "militarization of the web" by the Syrian regime that uses the Internet as a "tool to target and punish opponents" (Melody Zhang,OpenNet Initiative , 2012). In Sudan, censorship and monitoring daily affect traditional and digital media. In Iraq, the bill against cybercrime violates freedom of expression and threatens the work and safety of journalists, political opponents and civil society in general. In the Palestinian territories, Israel controls the entire Internet traffic, including third-generation services.

As in "repressive" countries, in the so-called democratic countries also, governments are stepping up efforts to introduce laws and practices to exert more control over the population, monitoring individual and collective freedoms. However, these new measures of control and surveillance is in the context of a broader initiative aimed to suppress peaceful dissent. As explains Maureen Webb in the safe illusion(Écosociété Publishing, 2101): "Never has so much information been collected, analyzed and stocked about individuals (...) shared between countries, democratic or information enforcement, with the collaboration of interested private companies. "The obsession with security, supported by an expensive and complex undertaking of mass surveillance, warrants, everywhere, human rights violations and the narrowing of the field of civil liberties.

In 2014, with support from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) of the European Commission, Alternatives and its partners will implement a project to support the right to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association, the right to anonymity and the right of access to information on the Internet in the MENA region.

In its first phase, the project will establish a regional center for cyber security. Based in Tunis, the center will serve the entire region, particularly targeting countries where filtering and cyber-censorship are especially present. It will serve activists from civil society organizations, journalists, bloggers and dissidents and other human rights defenders in the region, to learn to circumvent censorship, protect its digital communications and remain anonymous online.

As a space for reflection and analysis, this center will provide participants from the region means to better articulate the relationship between the digital rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association in their country, in the region and elsewhere in the world. The project proposes to strengthen the capacity of civil society to participate in the process of Universal Periodic Review (UPR), established by the Council of Human Rights, to advance the right to freedom of expression on the internet at national, regional and international level.

The project therefore has three main components:

  • The creation of a center in Tunis for support and training in cyber security to human rights defenders in the region that offer training, resources, services and emergency funds to assist human rights defenders to secure their communications and bypass censorship;
  • A training program on digital rights and political issues related to the Internet;
  • Support to national, regional and international campaigns using digital technologies to enhance freedom of expression and association in the target countries.

The first phase of the program prioritizes human rights in Iraq, Palestine, Tunisia, Sudan and Syria. Links will also be established with human rights defenders, bloggers, netizens and Egyptian journalists and other people from other countries in the region.

In January 2014, Alternatives inaugurated its office in Tunis to coordinate the programming in the MENA region.



Contact Person & Details: 
Feroz Mehdi
Palestinian Territory