Foreign Policy Blogs

Democracy in the Middle East: A Snapshot from ICANN

A multi-stakeholder committee illustrates strong democratic preferences and practices


ICANN’s Policy Development Process Infographic in Arabic

Democracy in the Middle East is a passionate, controversial, and evolving issue.  But it is on grand display among members of an ICANN working group.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a global non-profit organization that helps keep the Internet stable and secure by managing the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS ensures that when you type you get the web site you are seeking. ICANN’s mandate, rooted in a 1998 agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, includes this technical work, as well as promoting DNS competition and ensuring global participation in its work. It does all this through bottom-up consensus-driven multi-stakeholder processes.

In the last two decades, ICANN activities have widened to include roles for government, the private sector, civil society, technologists, academics, and other stakeholders around the world.  One of these is the ICANN Middle East and Adjoining Countries Strategy Working Group (MEAC SWG).  Building on the work of the 2013-2016 group, MEAC SWG is focused on the domain name industry, domain name system (DNS) security, and Internet governance ecosystem in the MEAC region (22 Arab states and Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan).

But the working group’s first mission this summer was to choose its leaders.  The process of choosing a chair and vice chair illustrated democratic preferences and practices across the region. The 48 members were asked to nominate candidates. The working group’s guidelines for the several candidates were to try to come to some consensus on who should fill each position. After a few days of nominations and negotiations among the nominees, an agreement was reached and announced.

What followed was a vigorous debate among the members. Dozens of group emails criss-crossed the region, not about who should be chair and vice chair, but about the process. Some pointed to the original guidelines, indicating they should, and had been, followed. But others clamored for a voice in the process. They wanted a vote by all the members, not just a private settlement among the nominees. A special conference call for committee members was convened. The tone was civil and cooperative, but the message was unmistakable. As one member stated simply and urgently, “My objection is not to the people, my objection is to the process…. [The members] did not have a say” in who the chair and vice chair would be.

The conference call permitted any member to contribute his or her opinions, and many did. In the end, the group and its ICANN staff support agreed. A new call for nominations was followed by a vote among all the members.

The substantive work of MEAC SWG is now well underway. Its work will contribute significantly to Internet growth in the greater Middle East. But its initial taskspirited, robust demands by its members to select its leadership in a transparent, democratic process, and the consensual management of organizing itself democraticallyis itself illuminating.

The author is a 2016-2019 member of ICANN MEAC SWG.
Photo: ICANN,



Jim Quirk

Jim Quirk teaches American and comparatiive politics at American University in Washington, D.C. He has taught at Loyola University Maryland, The Catholic University of America, and the University of Economics in Varna, Bulgaria. His favorite projects have included work with in Mexico, Russia, the Balkans, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, OSCE, IEEE, and the Open World Leadership Center. He tweets from @webQuirks