Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Anas Tawileh

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Anas Tawileh – Co-founder of the Syria Chapter of the Internet Society and initiator of the Arab Commons Initiative; involved in free and open-source software projects and advocacy. Based in Syria and Cardiff, Wales. 

The Transcript:

Q: Who are you with and why are you representing them at IGF? 

A: I’m representing the DiploFoundation, concerned with Internet governance issues and we are here mainly to understand the current status of the IGF process. It is the first IGF, and you want to know to enhance our understanding the diplomatic process that’s going on between different stakeholders and how they want to save the future of the Internet and to see how we can voice the concerns that civil society has about the future of the Internet and governance regime. That’s being made now here.

Q: What is your vision of the future of Internet governance?

A: Frankly, I don’t think that Internet governance will work. Because what’s happening here is only a power struggle between many stakeholders trying to control as much of the medium as they can, and I think that this contradicts with the main principle of the Internet, which is openness, fostering innovation, keeping things as open as possible. So the point is, because so many different people have so many different agendas, and they conflict in so many areas, so I think that it’s almost impossible to reach a consensus on how this global Internet governance framework should look like, and I would rather say the best way forward is to keep the Internet now, the time being, as open as possible for the next generation who will grow up with the Internet internalized in their understandings, in their agendas. Those people understand what is the Internet much better than we do, and then they will do a much better job in governing and managing the Internet. But if we do anything now, I believe that looking to the current situation and some of the different agendas of different stakeholders, I think what we are doing is only limiting the Internet, impairing the development of the potential that is has for innovation and development.

Q: Do you think Internet governance will be put on hold or will we rush into it?

A: I think they will try to do that for the first phase of the process. They will try to achieve a consensus, they will try to build a system for Internet governance, a framework, but then they will realize that the differences are huge and they can’t come anywhere in between, and the system will collapse. It will never work.

Q: Is it productive to have forums like IGF?

A: I think the forums are important, but we have to look at what we are discussing in these forums. That needs to be considered because I think it’s only currently a forum for people to come and voice their own opinions of what they think the Internet should be, what they think the Internet has to be, but I personally think that the Internet – no one has the authority to decide what the Internet has to be. It evolved, and it has to continue to evolve. And if there are any problems, then these problems only should be solved and not the whole Internet.

We have also to consider that we shouldn’t ask to do on the Internet the things we couldn’t do in the real world. So we still have conflicts in the real world, we still have problems, so many problems. So, don’t tell me that you will solve everything online when it’s not solved in real life. If you fail to do it there, then you will never ever have a chance of doing it electronically.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of the Internet?

A: I hope for the Internet to be the empowering tool for the people that didn’t have a voice in the past, or the people who are disadvantaged. I would love to see the Internet do this, and I think it is able to be the empowerment tool that the people in the global South, to innovate, to improve, to create their own cultural wealth – to create their own networks – and then to connect with every other culture, every other nation on the basis of equality. This is what I hope the Internet will do, and I think it is able, but we have to be very careful not to intervene too much that we hinder this process.

Q: What is your greatest fear for the future of the Internet?

A: My greatest fear is increased control by governments or corporations or whoever imposes controls on the Internet because I think control will block innovation. And if we are so happy and so excited about the Internet in it’s current state, that’s because it wasn’t blocked. Innovation was enabled for everyone – everything was so open. We shouldn’t try to close things. I fear closure and blocking off innovation and … of the Internet, and openness.

Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word.

A: Openness

This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.