King tries to breathe new life into Jordan's ICT sector
Late summer, and Jordanians were starting to panic about their pride of place as internet forerunner in the Middle East after rumors struck of an internet crackdown.
The plan was afoot for a regional web squeeze, but Jordan’s royal cyber waves certainly wouldn’t get any preferential treatment.
The King was set to sign off on a controversial law to curb internet freedoms and the Kingdom’s reputation as ‘Silicon Valley of the Middle East’ looked less and less apt.
Websites would be required to register with the Press and Publications Department and each website would be responsible for user comments. But other implications for censorship and freedom of operation were still unclear.
September saw more protests (amid other protests attending the Kingdom) against this specific law. Some participated in an Internet black out, where sites posted a message on their home page explaining that under the proposed changes, users could be deprived of the content.
The King’s open forum
On Sunday, HM King Abdullah II of Jordan presided over a focus group of 22 big names from Jordan’s ICT community who came together to address the nation’s internet issues.
Representatives from Yahoo, Kharabeesh, Intaj (An IT association specifically in support of the ICT sector), Google, Jeeran and Al Bawaba amongst others sat with ministers and government officials to re-invigorate the sector.
The King was relaxed and jaunty as he opened the casual get-together with a mission statement entreating the ICT sector (a project near and dear to him) to pick up its flagging momentum.
Discussions were candid, and it wasn’t long before the room was injected with a dose of IT energy and buoyed up by the King’s re-affirmed commitment to the sector in spirit and legal clout.
Voices from the Jordanian community shared visions of how to move forward, and HM Abdullah was onboard – directing the forum to devise a plan before their next meeting when the strategy would be discussed and endorsed. It was agreed that the MENA ICT forum of March would provide a launch-pad for any new initiatives reached by the Kingdom.
What happened today is essentially a signficant and quite positive step for the ICT sector in an intiative that already has the King's ears and guardianship. At the same time, HM King Abdullah is also considering the new Press and Publication law in light of bringing Jordan back as the ICT hub of the Middle East. Whether the Publication law would be repealed or simply tweaked favorably for practitioners in the Kingdom, nerves were allayed.
The King directed government officials to address the law in due course, specifically to reassure the members in attendance. When a monarch is chairing your meeting, confidence is restored and industry types remained hopeful for an online future with a little more support and a little less interference.
What do you think? Could the tide be shifting back to the golden age of Jordanian interenet business? Or will time tell a different story as governments crack-down on internet freedoms?