Panelists highlight role of ICT in Egypt’s democratic transition

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CAIRO: Egyptian IT professionals from both the public and private sector voiced their support for the positive role ICT can have “across the entire cycle” of Egypt’s democratic transition at a recent panel discussion.

From overthrowing the previous regime to building political movements, holding fair elections and ensuring accountability for elected politicians, tapping the potential of ICT tools is essential during the coming phase.

Intel continued its “Egypt Tomorrow: IT Vision for a Brighter Future” initiative last week with a panel discussion highlighting the role the sector can play at this critical stage in Egypt’s history.

“The 25th of January revolution is a testament to the power of technology,” the discussion’s moderator Hicham Arafa from Intel Egypt said opening the evening.

“ICT gives people power that they’ve never had before,” Sherif Hashem, executive vice president of the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) added, explaining that the entire world witnessed the power of ICT and how tools like Facebook and Twitter helped people organize protests that resulted in the overthrow of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

“Overall, Egypt’s transition to democracy simply can’t be done without ICT,” he added.

The panelists also turned their attention to how ICT can assist democratic transition by enabling Egyptians to politically organize themselves, debate issues, and spread information in the run-up to elections.

ICT, according to Sherif, provides Egyptians with a platform to come together and address important issues, express their suggestions and voice complaints.

By facilitating the “borderless spread of information,” ICT contributes to the organization of people and promotion of freedom of expression, an ingredient “which is essential to democracy,” Alaa El Din Al-Agamawi, honorary chairman for E-Learning and Business Solutions Union added.

In addition, ICT allows Egyptians to fundamentally change the way they vote.People can now study individual candidates and their platforms and ideas, visit political websites and become better citizens and voters, as opposed to simply voting for unknown candidates based merely on what group they belonged to, Gamal Gheitas, editor-in-chief of Loghat Al-Asr magazine and IT editor for the Al-Ahram newspaper, said.

“The people‘s ability to access and disseminate information more effectively,” he lauded, “will result in better awareness and interaction between all society members. I dream of a day in which ICT will enable everybody to participate directly in setting our country’s policies and directions.”

Education, the panelists agreed, is the key to a successful democratic transition.

“Everything starts with education. In order for the people to have a ‘voice’ to ‘voice’ there needs to be a pure and undivided focus on educating them on their rights and to facilitate the learning process through technology,” Arafa from Intel stressed.

Panelists also agreed that ICT can help the electoral process become more free and democratic.

The passage of recent legislation guaranteeing the creation of an independent electoral commission was a very positive step towards ensuring for free and fair elections, Gheitas explained, highlighting that, “without a democratic ballot box, there is no democracy.”

Gheitas went on to commend the role ICT plays in the 19 steps of the newly-defined electoral process, from the establishment of an election committee and the creation of a national database of voters, to the announcing of election results.

However, while the legislation has been passed, many of the panelists expressed doubts that Egypt will be able to fully develop its “e-voting” system in time for the upcoming elections in September.

“The law gives us the right to create this database of voters, however, we are still waiting on the creation of the new independent electoral committee first, which will be under the supervision of judges. I doubt this will be even close to ready by September elections,” Gheitas admitted.

On a positive note, Sherif offered a further benefit of ICT towards democratic transition by explaining how it can empower citizens to hold politicians they elect to account.

Through ICT’s infrastructure, “people can monitor the performance of candidates who campaigned on certain issues” and verify that they are voting accordingly, he noted.

The panel discussion on ICT’s role in Egypt’s democratic transition was a continuation of Intel’s “Egypt Tomorrow – IT vision for a brighter future,” which is an initiative that has been running for several months and “aims at tackling how ICT can help in the development of a country in different sectors to include e-services, e-health and e-education,” according to a company statement.

(L-to-R) Panelists Gamal Gheitas, Sherif Hashem and Alaa El Din Al-Agamawi.

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