Western Asia Preparatory Conference for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Kicks Off
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More Leaders and Nations of the World Unite, the Stronger the United Nations
Becomes, Says Lebanese President
Draft should Help Delegations Come up with Declaration of Principles, Says
Executive Secretary of the Regional Commission
Beirut, 4 February 2003 (United Nations
Information Service)--The Western Asia Preparatory Conference for the World
Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opened today at the United Nations
House in Beirut under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Lebanon,
Emile Lahoud, and in presence of a riveting crowd of Lebanese and Arab ministers
and experts. The Conference is organized by ESCWA (Economic and Social
Commission for Western Asia) in cooperation with the Cairo Office of UNESCO
(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the ITU
(International Telecommunication Union).
at the opening session were ESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy, Charles
Geiger, Senior Policy Advisor of the WSIS Executive Secretariat and Lebanese
Minister of Telecommunications Jean-Louis Kordahi, representing President Lahoud.
her statement, Tallawy thanked the Lebanese government’s initiative for its
call to the preparatory conference whose outcome will be forwarded to the WSIS,
the first phase of which will be held in Geneva in December 2003. She also said
that ESCWA has prepared a draft, which highlighted the points of strength and
weaknesses in information and communication technology in the Arab world.
Tallawy hoped that the draft would help delegations come up with a Declaration
of Principles and the Beirut Initiative toward the establishment of an
information society in the countries of the region.
Executive Secretary of the UN Regional Commission noted that the challenges
facing the developing countries in seeking the knowledge economy do not mean a
lack of knowledge as much as it means a lack of competency in using that
knowledge. “Contrary to the capitalist resources, mainly allocated by
political decisions, knowledge resources could be disseminated through
individuals and societies”, she said.
WSIS representative, Charles Geiger, said that the WSIS is the second UN type
world summit after the Johannesburg Summit. He identified three objectives for
the WSIS. The first, is to raise awareness among political leaders; the second,
is to explore the digital divide; and the third, is to start a public debate on
some of the key aspects of the information society.
WSIS representative said that the modern world is undergoing a fundamental
transformation, as the industrial society that marked the 19th and
the 20th centuries rapidly gives way to the information society of
the 21st century. “This dynamic process promises a fundamental
change in the private, social, cultural, economic and political aspects of our
lives”, he noted.
on behalf of the President of the Republic of Lebanon, Minister Kordahi
called on his audience to notice the shift in the need of
telecommunications and information from political and security matters to them
being tools for modernizing production and
developing human resources. He asked whether the longtime Arab investment in
infrastructure is needed for technological advancement, whether the young Arab
society can trespass the 1 percent threshold of internet usage, and whether the
state should interfere in this sector.
noted that the state should play a monitoring role, and give the private sector
a bigger role for the increase in investments and eventually the development of
concluded his statement by a riveting comment. “As we assemble today around a
UN initiative in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), we
call on the parties to the conflict in this region to reach peaceful settlements
for their disputes under the umbrella of the United Nations, and through the
implementation of its resolutions”, he said. “The more leaders and nations
of the world unite, the stronger the United Nations becomes”, Kordahi
the opening, and before starting the plenary session, Minister Kordahi was
elected as chairperson of the Conference, the Saudi head of delegation, Minister
of Higher Education Khaled bin Mohammad Al-Ankari, as deputy chairperson and the
head of the Egyptian delegation, Nadia Hegazi as raporteur.
the first plenary session, Abdel-Wahid Khan spoke on behalf of the UNESCO
Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, saying that UNESCO has been involved in the
preparations for the WSIS, which he described as a major event on the global
agenda. Khan also said that between mid-December 2002 and mid-January 2003, the
UNESCO hosted an online conference for civil society organizations as part of
the WSIS preparatory process. He added that several ESCWA Member States were
affected by political context and that their future is closely linked to the
current conflicts and the outcome of peace negotiations in the region as a
on behalf of Jose Maria Figueres Olsen, Chairman of UN-ICT Task Force, Mustafa
Nasseriddine, praised ESCWA work in the area of ICT for development, saying that
further collaborative links between ESCWA and UN-ICT, particularly at the
regional level, need to be established. He added that ESCWA Member States have
made significant strides in using ICT for their socio-economic development but
still need much to be done.
second plenary session was held today during which World Bank Director of Global
Information and Communication Technologies Division Mohsen Khalil highlighted
the Western Asian situation. Khalil said that behind the center of serious
international conflict, the Western Asia region faces a uniquely demanding
situation. He also highlighted the World Bank position in relation to the
objectives of the Summit; the challenges and opportunities for Arab countries in
building a prosperous information society in Western Asia; and the World Bank
assistance to the region in this regard.
Solh, the Arab League Assistant Secretary-General, delivered a statement in
which he underlined the interest of ESCWA Member States in preparing for the
Summit. He said that the importance of the WSIS reflected on the Arab countries
as they held three preparatory meetings in Damascus, Tunis and Cairo in which
delegations produced recommendations and forwarded them to the Council of Arab
telecommunications ministers. Solh stressed the importance of broadcasting and
transmitting information at the highest quality and the cheapest price. He
referred to the UN Human Development Report 2002, which reported a digital gap
among Arab countries.
Mrayati, ESCWA Regional Advisor on Science and Technology, presented a paper on
Western Asia Information Society in which he recommended that ESCWA member
countries debate their different perspectives on the issue of information
society in order to reach a common understanding.
Head of the ITU Arab Regional Office, Ibrahim Qadi, said that the information
revolution of this century is equivalent in importance to the agricultural
revolution, which transformed the world 100 centuries ago and the industrial
revolution three centuries ago. He stressed the importance of producing websites
that are in Arabic and which safeguard ethical concerns. Qadi said that the Arab
society still depend on oral news rather than written reports.
final document adopted by the Beirut Conference, which will conclude Thursday,
is expected to include its main recommendations regarding policies, preliminary
plans and initiatives that address the key issues and tackle the identified
problems in building the information society. The document will be presented at
the Second Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee meeting to be held in Geneva
from 17 to 28 February 2003. The second preparatory meeting will discuss the
agenda of the Summit and the elements to be incorporated into the final document
for the World Summit on the Information Society.