Head of IJMA3 - The Arab ICT Organization Calls on Iran to Cease Repressive Internet Practices

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In response to Iran's ongoing use of the internet to monitor and suppress the activities of anti-government protesters this week, Nizar Zakka, Secretary General of IJMA3, issued the following statement, calling such actions destructive to Iran's long-term growth:

In response to Iran's ongoing use of the internet to monitor and suppress the activities of anti-government protesters this week, Nizar Zakka, Secretary General of IJMA3, issued the following statement, calling such actions destructive to Iran's long-term growth:

IJMA3 - The Arab ICT Organization has been watching the effects of the immolation in Sidi Bouzid on December 18, 2010 spread in concentric circles - across the Maghreb and Eastward toward Egypt, the Levant and the Gulf. Some have compared its race across the Arab (and Persian) world to “wildfire.” A conflagration leaping across the landscape which sweeps all before it, leaves the charred remains of the past behind, and hopefully provides the wherewithal for renewed growth.

Much of the change, now so evident, was known as it incubated. Known by some of the better print journalists, known by those few humanitarian workers who still work and live with the disenfranchised, and known by the ICT (information and communication technologies) entrepreneurs and marketers who watched their “goods and services” being consumed at unprecedented rates - flying off the shelf - as they say. Cell phone use, text messaging, access to the internet, social media all met in a perfect storm with a burgeoning youth demographic, stagnant economies, and autocratic leaders who refused any egress for popular aspirations for change. Few could predict where it would ignite but unless you were completely out of touch you knew that transformation was afoot. The hundred year slumber of the Arab world was drawing to a close, and an awakening had begun - one fraught with both danger and opportunity.

It came just in time. The Arab world cannot compete or survive next door to the hegemons - India, China, Japan, Europe, America without its governance and its economies becoming inclusive and participatory, and without their citizens being owners rather than renters. And, neither can they be relevant without being connected internally and externally to an increasingly global economy and civil society. IJMA3 is right at the heart of that relevance. Its foundation is to help provide and promote the necessary connectivity that allows renaissance in the Arab world, and that allows participation in a global environment.

That said, it is also true that the “Tunisian effect” will produce very different reactions in different contexts within the Arab world. There will be “soft landings” as well as “hard landings.” There is a sense - an optimism - that Egypt and Tunisia will travel through the transition and emerge the stronger for it. But other autocrats are under siege as well. In Iran, the protesters are facing the challenges of Tahrir Square ten-fold.

In Iran, there is no feeling that the “whole world is watching,” no CNN peering into the manifestations and transmitting it worldwide. Further, stories from reliable sources are reaching us daily that the secret police are getting into Iranian living rooms by using virtual identities on the internet and attracting children and teenagers and turning them into unwitting informants against their families and friends, to the extent that citizens are feeling as oppressed and fearful to say what they have on their mind in private as what they dare to say in public. Here, indeed, the price for Internet freedom is very high. Even as social media is used as a tool for change, it is simultaneously being used by repressive regimes to identify and monitor activists, enabling them to justify further arrests and oppression. As security and intelligence services within these regimes are catching up with the latest tools and applications, new innovations are needed more than ever to keep pro-democracy momentum protected and expanding.

Today, the government of Iran is in the process of digging its own grave. Not just because it is disallowing political opposition; but rather because it is seeking to stanch the lifeblood of what will allow Iran to be the great nation it has been. If Iranians cannot trade ideas internally and externally and then act on those ideas, they will become backward - locked away from international discourse and dialogue. IJMA3 calls upon the government of Iran to immediately restore this lifeblood of connectivity to its people and to stop using social media as a tool for oppression. Not to do so is not only inhumane but augers self destruction.

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Nizar Zakka
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