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07|01|2007 08:51 am EDT

A Pre-Delegation Re-Delegation Fight at ICANN

by Antony Van Couvering in Categories: ICANN / Policy

There are only two undelegated top-level country-code domains, aside from those darkened by colonial diktat. One of them, .KP, the TLD of North Korea, is in the tender grip of the Dear Leader — enough said.

Western Sahara (.EH) is another matter. The nearest thing they have to a paranoid strongman who hates the Internet is a paranoid Moroccan government which bungles the Internet, as ICANN Marrakech attendees can attest (see the ICANN apology on webcasting at the preceding link for a delicious taste). Morocco claims the territory and the TLD, and so does the Polisario Front, who have been fighting the Moroccans with bullets and demonstrations for over 30 years. The Moroccans have built a wall enclosing all the habitable land, and the Polisario run around on the other side with jeeps.

Both the Polisario and the Morrocan government showed up at the recent ICANN San Juan meeting to claim .EH.

dot EH mousepad

As you might expect, both sides are past masters in the art of swaying public opinion. The Moroccan representative attended the GAC meeting, and if he said anything at all it is not reported. The Polisario, on the other hand, hired a crowd-pleasing Barcelona intellectual property law firm, Ubilibet, who rented an invisible booth at the butt-end of the hall and gave friendly but careful answers to my questions. Stop Press!

The Polisario applied for the .EH domain more than a year ago, and the Moroccans, late as usual to the Internet party, protested to the GAC, where the Voldemorts of Internet policy go to drink blood behind closed doors. The Polisario, who are good enough to meet with the U.N’s Secretary General, apparently aren’t good enough for the GAC, who refused entry to their legal representative, Mr. Mahmend Khadad. According to the polite young lawyer from Ubilibet, Mr. Julio Parado de Atia Santano, the two sides are meeting right now at the U.N. in New York, their first meeting since 2000.

Meanwhile, back in Western Sahara, on June 1, six young men were arrested, tortured, and sodomized with bottles by Moroccan police, then thrown in prison. Go GAC!

From a policy perspective, ICANN is in a bit of a bind. There is no “local Internet community� to consult — certainly not in Western Sahara, where there is no Internet, and hardly at all in Morocco, where everything is censored except sleep-inducing reports on King Mohammed IV’s royal itinerary. The Polisario claim that starting .EH will be the catalyst for the Internet there, while the Moroccan GAC representative claims royal prerogative and drinks blood behind closed doors.

This is the first (and likely last) pre-delegation re-delegation ICANN fight. Luckily for ICANN staff, it concerns a forgotten corner of the globe that holds no interest at all for the GNSO (where the French GAC member was babbling on about how censorship could be moral), or for any of the money-making constituencies, who ran around the luxurious Caribe Hilton in swimming trunks and flip flops. And staff can always fall back to the position that ICANN is merely a technical co-ordination body (with a $50M budget).

Meanwhile, back in Western Sahara…

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1 Comment

Alfonso

September 28, 2007 @ 3:23 pm EDT

I’d like to clarify one point: THERE IS a Saharawi local internet community.

I work for a European NGO at the Saharawi refugee camps where almost 200.000 inhabitants are surviving in extremely hard conditions since 1975 (for 32 years!), thrown away from their homeland by Moroccan invaders, and there are some cyber-places and internet connections trhough which Saharawi people surf, e-mail, chat and discover the outside world.

And be sure that they support the .EH delegation request made by the Sahrawi Government.

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