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Essay Contest: Cyber Security and Online Citizenship in MENA

Winner Announced  ||  Prize: Cash Prize and Publication on our website


Digital citizenship is an increasingly important aspect of everyday life and political participation, thus increasing the need for access. By increasing or restricting the access to digital technology,

In 2015, approximately half of the roughly 5000 ‘Removal requests’ sent to Twitter globally came from the Turkish government. Most of the state-imposed restrictions are explained using the argument of national security. However, where is the line drawn between national security and restricting civil liberties in online surveillance? If mainstream communication platforms are blocked from the general public, how does the new, more secure platforms actually affect the national security agenda? Both democratic and non-democratic states claim that the threats posed to national security justify extensive surveillance mechanisms, with more and more citizen’s data collected and easily accessed by state authorities. Other “security” measures include developing so-called “Internet kill switches” (the notion of shutting down the Internet in order to protect it); restricting the use of encryption; implementing filtering and blocking mechanisms; and introducing real name policies. Such measures often pose threats to civil liberties, as well as tending to lack judicial oversight and the publicly available data on which to judge their effectiveness. While it is not at all clear that they improve security, they frequently risk erasing the benefits the internet delivers to the individuals using it.

In today’s digital age, in which formal schooling often competes with peer-driven outlets provided by social media, young people all over the globe have forged new models of civic engagement, rewriting the script of what it means to live in a democratic society. As a result, state society relationships have shifted never more clearly than in the MENA region, where recent uprisings were spurred on by the mobilization of tech-savvy and politicized youth. As the world of digital communications becomes smaller and people find it easier to contact to each other, some states have taken it upon to themselves to survey what their citizens do online. Restrictions to social media platforms and various websites create difficulties for citizens to communicate and participate on open discussions online regarding social and political issues. This has created incentives, especially young people, to form new platforms in various forms, through networks and programs such as VPN and Tor. As there is no uniform legal protection or rights given to online users, it can be hard for the international community to dictate what and how people should be allowed to do and say online in these countries.

States can influence the way their citizens participate in both social and political life. Digital citizenship comes with nine different aspects, all important from both a personal and societal point of view. These aspects can be divided into: Digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security.

Fanack Academy wishes to further explore our community’s knowledge around the subject of cyber security and citizenship, from the point of view of these aspects of digital citizenship, or through the security issues cyber surveillance creates on individuals and States in the MENA region. We are calling out to you to submit your academic papers ranging between 1000-3500 words in Arabic, English, French, Turkish or Farsi on the subject. The top five papers will be selected for cash prizes and they will be published on our website.

Selection Criteria

Fanack’s Academic Team along with our guest experts Mohamad Najem and Sasan Maleki will be reviewing the final selections and choosing our final awards on a council decision process, taking into account information and content presented, writing style, and originality.

Essays will be judged by our guest experts


Mohamad Najem is the co-founder and co-director Social Media Exchange (smex.org). He leads the organization’s advocacy and community engagement programs, and is currently focused on bringing together knowledgeable and progressive voices to push for sound Internet governance in the Arab region. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on the intersect of human rights and social media.He can be found on twitter as @MoNajem and is a blogger for SMEX and Global Voices Advocacy.



Sasan Maleki is a Network security analyst for Volunteer Activists, an Sasan MalekiNGO based on Iranian civil society, empowerment and freedom of expression. Sasan has overseen the development and implementation of anonymous operating systems, chameleon VPNs, and Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI). His main work and research focus surrounds providing guidance and learning material for the wider Iranian and Middle Eastern audience on safe and secure digital presence.




Winners: our team and judges have found our winner!

1st Place:

“Mass Surveillance and Internet Censorship Under Scrutiny” 

by: Ahmed Elsobky

Language:  English

Abstract: Since the very beginning of our digital age, it has been widely believed that national security and the right to privacy cannot possibly meet at a joining point; that way, we may only have one at the expense of the other. Internet censorship has also been utilized under the argument of blocking all sorts of unwanted digital materials. But when put under spotlight, such vague arguments and misconceptions all eventually start to dissipate into thin air.

2nd Place:

“Toward Net Neutrality in the Arab Region: What VPNs Can Offer?”

by: Mona Elswah

Language: English

AbstractBattles on providing freedom of the Internet are consecutive on different shapes all over the world. From these battles, a concept known as Net Neutrality (NN) was raised. Debates over granting open and free Internet to users in developed countries and eventually reaching a level of neutral Internet with no discrimination to certain data packets over another. In the western communities, the NN revolves around eliminating prioritization to data from content providers who pay more to deliver their data faster which may harm innovations. Yet, NN in the Arab region focuses on allowing open access to users without filtering and blocking websites. Moreover, the term should be examined more frequently due to the excessive restrictions imposed on the Internet in the region. Following the Arab Spring, the Internet freedom worsened and more restrictive protocols were taken by governments. To rebel these restrictions, several methods are used to open the blocked websites or services such as VPNs. VPNs with their abilities to encrypt data provided an alternative to unblock and to overcome these restrictions. Hence, attempts to block these VPNs were executed; however, complete blockage of these methods is implausible. Therefore, such methods provide a hope to apply the mere fundamentals of net neutrality in the region.

3rd Place: 

“Anime Culture: The Fervor of Purification and Illusions”

By:Achraf Khallouli

Language: Arabic

Synopsis: The  article explores the outlet of online representation as animes or avatar figures in online environments for Tunisian youth, and the response by the authorities, and community to this newly rising craze”