Tarek Kamel’s New Role: A Delicate Governance Balance within ICANN and African Stakeholders

Mr. Tarek Kamel is an Egyptian expert in global Internet governance issues. He is considered the father of the Internet in Egypt.  His recent posting came as a big break when he was appointed in August 2012 to serve as a Senior Advisor to its President of ICANN.

Prior to joining ICANN, Tarek was a board member of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt from April 2011- July 2012.He  is widely recognized as the person who brought the Internet widely in Egypt – first as adviser to the minister of ITC, then as a minister himself. He has publicly and privately expressed support for the open development of the Internet. He is co-founder of ISOC-Egypt He was board member of Telecom Egypt from 2000 to 2004 and a board member of Egypt’s Private Public Technology Development Fund (TDF) to support start ups and incubators in ICT from 2002 to 2004.

Besides being Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kamel was the Chairman of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), the National Telecommunication Institute (NTI) and the Information Technology Institute’s (ITI) Boards of Trustees.

Kamel is known for his visionary strategy in driving and developing Egypt’s ICT sector, leading Egypt into the global Information Society. He has led many national initiatives to increase Internet and broadband penetration in Egypt. Over the last several years, he has been the main proponent of Egypt’s programs to reform and deregulate the telecommunications sector.

However his track record as father of internet was also hampered by his perceived actions during the Arab Spring and especially his not preventing the closing of the Egyptian Internet gateway during the spring, this issue triggered international outcry.  This even prompted Andrew McLaughlin writing him an open letter which was published on Huffington post.

As a friend, I write to urge you to take one final action before you walk out the door of your Ministry: Give the order to reconnect Egypt to the global Internet, and to drop all remaining blocks on wireless networks.

Although he has good experience,  his affiliation with government and his new position at ICANN that ought to be neutral is being watched with curiosity on his views and dealings with the African stakeholders, particularly given that Africa has two applicants for the .africa domain, one independent and another a government affiliated proposal.

Perhaps Mr. Kamel pivotal role in developing the ICT that enabled O&O (outsourcing and offshoring) industry in Egypt gave him the attractiveness that enables his appointment at ICANN where he has added responsibilities including the Senior Advisor to its President and CEO on global issues, and to work with the group to develop the initial strategic plan that was announced in ICANN 45 Toronto.   His responsibility also includes being inclusive to other facets to the African strategy, to which he demonstrated early support to the DotConnectAfrica’s proposal Internet Business Council for Africa (IBCA) initiative that is to go along side the ICANN Africa strategy, announced at the public forum at ICANN 45 in Toronto .

Therefore, his ability to solve and transcend such issues and present an objective platform for his advice to CEO is key.  Despite the fact that he comes from the same fraternity where he is credited as a founding member of AfriNIC whose leadership has attempted to dominate all principal internet issues in Africa.

As a matter of concern, one would expect Mr. Kamel’s appointment to assist ICANN with matters of governmental relations and the challenge of building a multistakeholder platform where also the private sector will be recognized.   The current internet governance environment in Africa led by the AfriICANN grouping is dominated by NGO’s and ccTLD’s and therefore the apparent absence of the private sector actors tips the multistakeholder balance unfairly therefore the need for private sector.   This gap can be properly filled by the presence of the IBCA initiative whose proposals as it were stated, will satisfy this shortcoming.

Mr. Kamel’s central position as proposed by ICANN will be carefully watched by all in the African stakeholders concerned with the ICANN process.   It is known that many African internet users do not know much about the ICANN process,  an issue that seriously undermines their ability to comment directly and authoritatively.  Mr. Kamel’s abilities in peacefully mediating African internet agenda issues will be greatly needed,  especially at this time that Africa has two serious competitors who will stop at nothing to see that the African registry is developed despite the serious different backgrounds.

Under normal circumstances, the ICANN’s decision to have Mr. Kamel, whose background is in governmental responsibility would be considered a conflict of interest,  since, if not well waded would hamper his management style of matters to favor government interest.   This has in the past cumbered ICANN’s former African representative Ms. Anna Rachel whose position chronically suffered from outside influence.

Finally,  Mr. Kamel’s responsibilities in driving the ICANN agenda would be careful to ensure that ICANN’s attempt to be more visible in Africa and the plans are not used by vested individuals to sponsor the agenda of any particular group over the .africa title,  as well as matters of their own future interest.   Africa needs to be allowed to competitively run their proposals as well as present their cases to ICANN without internal or external influence.

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