Media and Democracy in the Arab World:
The Future of Freedoms and Rights in the Digital Era

Thursday, October 31, 2019
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

JW Marriott Washington DC
1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW,
Washington, DC 20004

About the conference:

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 of—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.

While social media tools and communication technologies have played a central role in uprisings and democracy, they have also become tools of the repressive policies of authoritarian regimes. With resurgent and entrenched authoritarianism in the last year, the Arab world has witnessed increased targeting of journalists and activists and further restrictions on freedoms of expression. The emergence of a renewed wave of protest and democratizing potential in the region is juxtaposed with a robust form of totalitarian rule, one that further threatens the state of freedoms and rights. From hacking and espionage campaigns to the targeting and killing of journalists, 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 dedicating its fourth annual conference to exploring the role of media and new technologies in human rights and democracy in the Arab world.

Conference Agenda
(Additional speakers to be annouced)

09:00 AM Registration and Breakfast

09:20 AM Welcoming Remarks
  Khalil E. Jahshan
Executive Director
Arab Center Washington DC

09:30 AM Morning Keynote
  US Media and the Arab World: Freedom of Press on Palestine
  Marc Lamont Hill
Award winning journalist
Professor of Media and Urban Studies, Temple University

10:30 AM The Arab Public Sphere in the Age of New Authoritarianism
  Mohamad Hamas Elmasry
Associate Professor and Chair, Media and Cultural Studies Program and Journalism Program, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies
Assistant Professor, Department of Communications, University of North Alabama
  Sahar Khamis
Associate Professor of Communication, University of Maryland
Academic Advisory Board member, Arab Center Washington DC
  Rami G. Khouri
Senior Public Policy Fellow; Professor of Journalism, American University of Beirut
Non-resident Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

  Summer Lopez
Senior Director of Free Expression Programs
Pen America
Imad K. Harb – Moderator
Director of Research and Analysis
Arab Center Washington DC
  The impulse toward democracy that underlies recent political developments in the Arab world such as in Sudan and Algeria is contrasted with new waves of authoritarianism in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. What is the current state of freedom of expression across the region? What is the role of the media in the progress toward achieving rights and freedoms for Arab citizens? How do different media tools contribute to protest movements and various attempts to control information and speech, close public spaces, and limit debate?

12:00 PM Lunch Keynote Conversation
  Silencing the Truth: The Case of Jamal Khashoggi
  Bakhtiyor Avezdjanov
Legal Advisor to Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions
Participated in the UN human rights inquiry into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Program Officer, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University

02:00 PM Controlling the Narrative, Silencing Dissent: Media Politics and Freedom of Expression
  Hala Aldosari
Wilhelm Fellow
MIT Center for International Studies
  Sut Jhally
Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Founder and Executive Director, Media Education Foundation
Executive Producer, Occupation of the American Mind
  Courtney C. Radsch
Advocacy Director, Committee to Protect Journalists
Journalist and author of Cyberactivism and Citizen Journalism in Egypt

  Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
Daoud Kuttab – Moderator
Award-winning journalist, TV producer, and media activist
  Traditional and new media tools play a critical role in democratic governance, enabling a public sphere and providing spaces for political discussion and debate. However, under totalitarian and oppressive rule, these very tools are used to target and silence critical voices and control the conversation. In the digital age, what measures are used to silence dissent, target journalists and human rights activists, and suppress the voices of marginalized communities? What are social media tools and cybercrime laws used or misused to stifle freedom of expression and political rights?

03:30 PM Cyber Geopolitics and the Weaponization of Social Media
  Jessica Dheere
Deputy Director, Ranking Digital Rights
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
2018-2019 Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

  Ryan Grim
DC Bureau Chief
The Intercept
  Karen Gullo
Analyst and Senior Media Relations Specialist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
  Marc Owen Jones
Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities, Hamad bin Khalifa University
Fellow at The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

Tamara Kharroub – Moderator
Assistant Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow
Arab Center Washington DC

  With the emergence of cyber power, evolving opportunities and risks are presented by new media tools, from cyber activism to espionage, fake news armies, hate speech, and cyber warfare. How are social media platforms and new technologies used and manipulated as tools of war and propaganda? What are the humanitarian costs of cyber conflict? What is the future of human rights and democracy in the region in an increasingly networked world? And what policy recommendations and regulations can best counter the misuse of technology and cybercriminal laws?

4:50 PM Closing Remarks
  Tamara Kharroub
Assistant Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow
Arab Center Washington DC

05:00 PM Adjournment