Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 November 2005
Issue No. 769
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Making the most of WSIS

Delegates from around the world gather in Tunis for the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society, reports Niveen Wahish

The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) was originally launched in 1998 by the United Nations. It took five years to reach the second phase of the initiative, which is scheduled to end tomorrow in Tunis.

Organised by the International Telecommunication Union, WSIS aims at bridging the global digital gap, promoting information technology and communications (ITC) as a means to access knowledge and spur development.

The first phase of the summit, which met in Geneva in 2003, resulted in the declaration of principles and an action plan that aimed to build an inclusive information society in which ITC is placed at the service of development and used as a tool to promote internationally agreed development goals and address new challenges at national, regional and international levels. The second phase aims at formulating monitoring and evaluation mechanisms so that progress made towards bridging the digital divide and realising the targets laid out in the Geneva Plan can be measured.

The ways in which ICT development and projects are financed was high on the agenda of the Tunis meeting, as was the question of who controls the Internet and how WSIS commitments can be followed up in the post-Tunis phase.

Few delegates expect the three-day summit to come up with fool-proof solutions to the issues under discussion. Nadia Hegazi, advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of Information Technology and Communication, is among those who believe that the outcome of WSIS will fall short of original hopes.

"Our goals have been watered down to what can be achieved practically," says Hegazi. She still believes, though, that the Tunis meeting is a step in the right direction and the first two phases of WSIS should be viewed as a beginning rather than an end. If nothing else, says Hegazi, the summit has focussed attention on South-South cooperation in the area of information technology and has encouraged the exchange of experiences. What is important, she said, "is that the momentum is not lost."

While any assessment of the final outcome of the conference will have to wait until tomorrow delegations from developing countries, including Egypt, have been making the most of their presence at the event. Egypt's delegation, headed by Tareq Kamel, minister of information technology and communications, comprises government officials and representatives from the private sector as well as non-governmental organisations. In addition to participating in roundtables and workshops Egypt is also taking part in an exhibition showcasing progress made in "connecting the unconnected"; the goal of the Connect the World Initiative. Egypt's presentation will focus on three ongoing projects -- PCs for the Community, IT Clubs and free Internet access.

Egypt's stand in the Partnership Pavilion will also launch new initiatives, including the Arab Info Mall, a project overseen by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina that is intended to facilitate the activities of NGOs and civil society organisations.

The Arab Info Mall,, serves as a meeting point for Arab civil society allowing NGOs to exchange experiences and update their knowledge of other organisations working in the same field.

Egypt will also be discussing its own experience of funding IT projects, with the Economic Research Forum presenting a report on Exchanging Debt for Development: Lessons from the Egyptian Debt-for-Development Swap Experience. The report will be presented within the context of discussions related to the viability of using debt swaps to finance socio-economic development with an emphasis on the implications and outcome of innovative ICT projects.

Egypt received the World Summit Award for its e-culture site, developed by the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage. The World Summit Award is an international contest promoting e-contents and applications.

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