In the 21st century, media and digital tools are increasingly becoming a central component of the public sphere and the political process, where the limitations as well as the prospects for democratic reform are evolving with advances in technology. In the Arab world in particular, digital activism and cyber politics have manifested themselves at least since the mass protests of 2011. During the last year, new developments across the Arab world have revealed resurgent and entrenched authoritarianism, on the one hand, including the increased targeting of journalists and activists and restricting freedoms of expression, and new waves of popular protests, on the other. The emergence of a renewed dynamic in the region is juxtaposed with a robust form of totalitarian rule, one that brings risks of further curtailment of freedoms and rights.
While social media tools and communication technologies have been praised for their role in uprisings and their democratizing potential, they have also become part of the repressive policies of authoritarian regimes. From the hack that triggered the Gulf crisis in 2017 to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, cyber geopolitics—including mass disinformation operations, troll factories, smear campaigns, silencing dissent, targeted cyberattacks, and espionage techniques—present a rapidly growing trend in Middle East politics. With high disruptive potential that has low economic and political costs, cyber weapons introduce new threats not only to freedoms of expression and rights, but also to the progress toward democracy in the region. The future of democracy and human rights in the Arab world will be significantly impacted by the uses of new media tools and technologies in the political and geopolitical spheres. Indeed, implementing measures to ensure accountability and ethical policies in cyber space has become a profoundly paramount objective.
At this critical intersection of freedoms of expression and cyber geopolitics, Arab Center Washington DC is organizing its fourth annual conference dedicated to exploring the role of media and new technologies in human rights and democracy in the Arab world.
(Speakers to be announced soon)
||Registration and Breakfast
||Welcome and Introductions
||Morning Keynote – The State of Arab Democracy in the Information Age
||Arab Media Industries in the Age of New Authoritarianism
||Lunch Keynote Conversation: The Intersectionality of Justice in an Interconnected World
||Controlling the Narrative, Silencing Dissent: Media Politics and Freedom of Expression
||Cyber Geopolitics and the Weaponization of Social Media
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