Walid Al-Saqaf is Yemeni, a software developer, an Internet rights advocate, and a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm University with a passion for promoting a strong and open Internet that netizens can use to promote democratization and free speech.
As a computer engineering undergraduate student in the mid 1990s at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, Walid designed YemenTimes.com as the first news website in his home country Yemen. In 2007, he launched YemenPortal.net as the first news aggregator and search engine of its kind in the Arab world to provide Internet users with the ability to get a wide spectrum of perspectives from various news sources on Yemen in Arabic and English. When the website was blocked by the Yemeni government in 2008 due to its open platform that allowed dissident voices to be heard, he developed Alkasir website censorship mapping circumvention solution, which was initially used to access YemenPortal.net, but which soon became widely used by Internet users in many states such as Iran, Syria, China and Saudi Arabia to bypass website filtering in those countries.
Featured by CNN, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and other media, Walid’s work was particularly useful during the Arab Spring when some authoritarian Arab regimes practiced pervasive Internet filtering of news and social media websites. He has also been active in supporting open Internet access and online free speech in developing countries through non-technical means such as advocacy campaigns and training. His efforts have earned him recognition through several awards including a TED 2012 senior fellowship and Örebro University’s 2010 Democracy Award.
Walid is also engaged in several initiatives to promote innovation and creativity in technology among the youth as he organized TEDxSanaa 2012 and 2013, founded Sanaa Hub as part of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum and co-founded and led Yemen’s Internet Society Chapter for which he built a robust core team that was able to make ISOC-Yemen one of the most active chapters in the Middle East. Walid’s unique position as a scholar based in Sweden as well as a pro-free speech cyber activist and software developer of Arab background have jointly helped him develop a wide a range of skills and expertise to contribute to technical and policy discussions around Internet-related issues on several platforms such as ICANN, RIPE, IGF, and the World Wide Web Foundation. This helped him build bridges between developing and developed countries when it comes to addressing key issues that concern Internet users around the world.