Moral Manoeuvres: Cybersecurity in Egypt and the Gulf States

Lunch will be provided from 12:15pm

Cybersecurity is a complex and contested issue in international politics. The existence of radically different conceptions of cybersecurity is recognized by many scholars in International Relations, but rarely explored outside the cyber ‘great powers’: the US, the EU, Russia, and China. This talk investigates cybersecurity in Egypt and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a region between two poles of internet governance that has close military and security ties to the US and Europe and authoritarian features more reminiscent of Russia or China. Given this hybrid position, the question underpinning this talk is: how can we explain the nature of cybersecurity in Egypt and the Gulf states? This question is not merely academic, as it directly affects the creation of international agreements, laws and institutions, as well as questionable corporate and state surveillance practices.

The talk will begin with the recognition that cybersecurity is primarily an expert discourse incorporating both technical and value claims. The content of this discourse – who cybersecurity protects from what – is ambiguous due to both professional incentives and technological characteristics. Relevant actors in Egypt and the Gulf states use this ambiguity to perform ‘moral manoeuvres’: altering values and technical concepts within this professional discourse for their own ends. These manoeuvres are performed by human rights NGOs, government organizations, international surveillance suppliers, and the wider cybersecurity industry respectively. The overall result of these moral manoeuvres is the distortion and multiplication of several distinct cybersecurities across Egypt and the Gulf states.

James Shires is a research fellow with the Cyber Security Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and a research affiliate at Oxford’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs. He is a DPhil candidate (expected 2019) in International Relations at the University of Oxford, having submitted his thesis on cybersecurity in Egypt and the Gulf states in August 2018. He holds an MSc in Global Governance and Public Policy from Birkbeck College, University of London and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. He has won awards for cybersecurity papers from the Hague Program on Cyber Norms, the German Marshall Fund and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He has written policy papers and blogs on cybersecurity for Oxford Analytica, LSE and War on the Rocks. His recent publications include: “Enacting Expertise: Ritual and Risk in Cybersecurity”, a peer-reviewed article in Politics and Governance; and “Cybersecurity Governance in the GCC”, a chapter in the edited collection Rewired: Cybersecurity Governance, forthcoming 2019.