Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East Webinar


Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East

Politics in the Middle East, like elsewhere, is now cyberpolitics. Young, digitally native populations communicate and socialize online as much or more than they do offline, and so nearly all political acts – finding and distributing information, organizing and documenting meetings and protests, championing or countering a particular cause – are mediated by the internet. However, early narratives of digital liberation have been overtaken by concerns about authoritarian regimes deploying online surveillance and mechanized manipulation against their citizens. Digital infrastructure in the Middle East is rarely the main focus of academic attention. This workshop brings together regional voices, area studies scholars, specialists on social media and disinformation, and relevant policymakers in technology companies and government to explore the cyber element of politics. In particular, we focus on how digital technologies, economies and governance practices shape Middle East politics; and how Middle Eastern regimes are trying to shape and constrain digital expression; and how the dynamics of cyberpolitics in the Middle East compare to other regions and other major authoritarian actors.

Date and Time

May 25, 2021 9:00 AM10:30 AM
May 27, 2021 9:00 AM10:30 AM
June 1, 2021 9:00 AM10:30 AM
June 3, 2021 9:00 AM10:30 AM


RSVP Required.

Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East Agenda (1 of 2)


Panel 1: Digital Activism

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Hesham Sallam

  • Wafa Ben-Hassine: “The Hyper-Aware and Not-So-Aware: What’s Next for the MENA Region’s Activists and Society at Large Vis-a-Vis the Internet?”
  • Adel Iskander: “Re(Membering) Culture and Heritage: Egypt’s Latest Political Turf War”
  • Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, Anita Gohdes: “Changing Sources: Social Media Activity During Civil War”
  • Joshua Tucker: “Beyond Liberation Technology? The Recent Uses of Social Media by Pro-Democracy Activists”


Panel 2: Authoritarian Abuses of Internet Technologies

Thursday, May 27, 2021 |  9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Marc Lynch

  • Marwa Fatafta: “Transnational or Cross-Border Digital Repression in the MENA Region”
  • Andrew Leber, Alexei Abrahams: “Social Media Manipulation in the MENA: Inauthenticity, Inequality, and Insecurity”
  • Marc Owen Jones: “Tracking Adversaries: The Evolution of Manipulation Tactics on Gulf Twitter”
  • Xiao Qiang: “Chinese Digital Authoritarianism and Its Global Impact”


Panel 3: Government Reshaping of Norms and Practices to Constrain Online Activity

Tuesday, June 1, 2021 |  9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Eileen Donahoe

  • Ahmed Shaheed: “Binary Threat: How Governments’ Cyber Laws and Practice Undermine Human Rights in the MENA Region” (Co-authored with Benjamin Greenacre)
  • Mona Elswah, Mahsa Alimardani: ” Digital Apartheid: #SaveSheikhJarrah and Arabic Content Moderation”
  • Mohamad Najem: “Follow the Money for Better Digital Rights in the Arab Region” (Co-authored with Afef Abroughi)
  • James Shires: “The implementation of digital surveillance infrastructures in the Gulf”
  • Alexei Abrahams: “The Web (In)Security of MENA Civil Society and Media”


Panel 4: Cross-Border Information Operations

Thursday, June 3, 2021 |  9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Larry Diamond

  • Alexandra A. Siegel: “Official Foreign Influence Operations: International Broadcasters in the Arab Online”
  • Hamit Akin Unver: “Russian Digital Influence Operations in Turkey 2015-2020” (Co-authored with Ahmet Kurnaz)
  • Shelby Grossman, Renee DiResta: “In-House vs. Outsourced Trolls: How Digital Mercenaries Shape State Influence Strategies”
  • Nathaniel Gleicher: “Covert Manipulation, Overt Influence, Direct Exploit: Understanding and Countering Influence Operations in The Middle East and Beyond”