From May 4 to 5, 2016, stakeholders in the Internet community and the Domain Name System (DNS) industry gathered in Tunis, Tunisia, at the Middle East DNS Forum. Discussions centered around DNS topics as they affect Tunisia: the recent expansion of the Internet and the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), plans for universal acceptance, and the growth in the domain name market in Tunisia as well as in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Other topics included civil society participation in ICANN policy development, online trends in the MENA region, hosting services and data center industries in Tunisia, data privacy and security, and digital entrepreneurship.
Over 120 participants attended in person, another 20 participated remotely, an impressive turnout for a small country like Tunisia. The forum was hosted by Tunisia Internet (ATI), and was co-organized by ICANN and the Internet Society. The event's presenters included Tunisian business leaders and entrepreneurs, and ICANN community experts from registries, registrars, the Arabic Label Generation Rules Panel, At-Large Advisory Committee, Non-Commercial Users Constituency and Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group.
Tunisia, a nation of fewer than 12 million people, has faced daunting economic challenges since the Arab Spring of 2011, yet its vibrant youth are taking matters into their own hands, determined to create a better future for their country. This is what we felt and heard from many of those who participated in the forum last week – youngsters who are full of energy and ideas, looking for opportunities to transform their country into a digital economy.
Attendees were receptive to the positive message of Noomane Fehri, Tunisia's Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy. Fehri shared ambitious plans for connecting all of Tunisia's homes and schools to the Internet by 2020. The government is striving to make Tunisia a major technology hub in the region, and is working to overcome barriers to attracting investors and supporting startups.
Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisia Post, announced the launch of an initiative to promote the use of .post gTLD domains across the MENA region. The .post domain serves the needs of the global postal community, and this new initiative aims to create business opportunities around it in the region.
At a session focused on .tn, the Tunisian country-code top-level domain (ccTLD), panelists discussed marketing strategies for promoting its use. Thanks to ATI, the .tn ccTLD registry, major reforms have opened up the domain and have encouraged competition among registrars. Since 2011, the number of .tn domains has grown from 11,000 to over 32,000. But there are still more gTLD domains than .tn domains in Tunisia. Panelists agreed that while Tunisian end users are familiar with domain names, local registrars need to invest more in the user experience to make their service offerings more appealing to their customers.
Forum presenters and participants exchanged views on digital entrepreneurship in Tunisia. A group of Tunisian entrepreneurs spoke enthusiastically about the growth in opportunities since 2011, and what technology startups can do to transform societies and economies. The panelists announced a new platform – TunisianStartups – which aims to support Tunisia's entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The Middle East DNS Forum is one of the outcomes of the ICANN Middle East Engagement Strategy. This third forum proved to be an effective vehicle for engaging local communities and Internet experts, and bringing ICANN closer to them. We thank the local community and ATI for the work they did to promote the event, organize sessions and line up speakers. We are confident that future Middle East DNS Forums will continue to be successful, and we look forward to the fourth edition in 2017.