Wednesday

The New Arab World Requires New Public Diplomacy

Egyptian protesters on the street. Source: The Huffington Post

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
I tend to agree with the observation that it might be worthwhile to reorient the focus of PD efforts towards service (measurabl­e objectives­?) rather than pure 'branding.­' While branding might be important at certain times for visibility and recall, the "age of conversati­ons" actually offers meaningful opportunit­ies to "talk about actions" as well. In a political and economic culture driven by conversati­ons and informatio­n, PD should reorient itself towards facilitati­ng such conversati­ons and informatio­n that strengthen such actions, rather than just 'advertisi­ng.' However, I tend to disagree with Philip on the use of social media and I think it can be a powerful medium on a case to case basis. In some countries, social media is more democratis­ing and empowering (sometimes­) than any other medium. The world wide web in class ridden (even if politicall­y democratic­) and in closed societies, is empowering and equalizing simply because it makes information accessible to who ever is looking for it. Some BRIC countries are managing social media in a way that would help create more equitable societies.                                                                         
From a service point of view, PD cannot ignore social media.   
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.
-- Madhur

Monday

Revolutions and emotions in the Middle East

There is considerable hope and optimism all around that political churn in the Middle East  would eventually lead to a democratic transition in the entire region, overcoming political Islam and dictatorships. I feel this is where we need to be careful and understand how revolutions tend to unravel.

As I sit to write, news comes in of Operation Odyssey Dawn entering a crucial phase with coalition forces firing hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles into 'military targets' inside Libya. Gaddafi, meanwhile, has declared the coalition's intervention in Libya as "war on Islam." Nearby in Egypt, where a referendum is underway, critics are wary of Islamists becoming a major political force in Egyptian politics. 

Expectations tend to rise to unrealistic levels during revolutions. Revolutions also create powerful emotions. The measures that follow, more often than not, may not be able to meet such expectations resulting, very often, in a reactionary tide against the revolution. In the  Middle East, lack of economic dynamism, unstable political culture and a closed society may very well lead to a gap between expectations and delivery. This is when reactionary forces might set in, and in the Middle East, it may very well be Islam. Because when people lose hope, become desperate, they often turn to God. Besides religion is something deeply emotional and  personal and is in the heart. It appeals to emotions unlike a political concept  - democracy. 

This might be bit of  a stretch, but I would like to apply Gartner's Hype Cycle to the above argument as it is applied to new technology in the world of communications. There might be the possibility of Islam emerging as a  force in the "Trough of Disillusionment" as illustrated below:

Stages in the Gartner's Hype cycle hypothetically applied to revolutions in Middle East

Freedom, as the West understands it, may not appeal to some societies in these regions. Besides, be it the French Revolution or the Iranian revolution, examples of a strong counter current are many in history. Hence, it is too early to write Islam off as a political force in the Middle East. In this entire debate, there is a tendency to assume that Islam is antithetical to democracy. In fact, India is the best example where the second largest Muslim population in the world have embraced democracy. To pit Islam against democracy, and, adopt a line of discussion/news reporting that encourage such a demarcation will only lead to a "clash of emotions." 

Suggestions/Critiques welcome

-- Madhur
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