The rapid progress of technology has brought about an era of massive change. Distances have shortened, while IT has made communication easier, quicker and more reliable, providing a different perspective of time and space and driving social and cultural globalization by making the flow of ideas and information ever more accessible.
But these amazing new possibilities are also giving rise to unprecedented challenges. A brush between globalists and nationalists is becoming increasingly common within and across many countries, particularly in the Western world. This divide may be bridged if both sides appreciate the value of differentiation and interdependence.
The emergence of new risks that cannot be addressed through conventional defense mechanisms is making the attainment of unity and cohesion increasingly difficult. A complete disengagement from the process of globalization would jeopardize security and stability across the globe. Therefore, the stake for leaders everywhere is to balance out the dangers of internal discontent with the positive consequences of a greater involvement in global processes for the prevention of conflicts. Through constructive dialogue, with a thesis, antithesis and synthesis of new priorities, they need to search for a unifying vision.
A crisis in values is experienced globally, raising tumultuous waves. Climate change is creating huge challenges on all fronts. Chemical warfare is generating new weapons that can cause mass destruction in completely unpredictable ways with very little expenditure of effort. Unemployment and migration, both internal and external, are posing extensive threats to security and social cohesion that are only now beginning to unfold.
In the light of these pressing urgencies, strong anchors like faith, language, culture, and tradition, have to be reassessed and re-examined. They constitute the beauty and richness of humanity and need to be protected and maintained. The appreciation of cultural and natural diversity can lead to a deeper understanding of how interdependent we are with each other and, therefore, to mutual respect. We can draw inspiration from this interdependence and apply human potential and creativity to avoid the traps of extremism and fanaticism, which have become a universal threat of sweeping proportions.
The precious gift of bios – life – has the potential to help us exit the catastrophic crisis in leadership and values. We exist as a small speck in the universe. Instead of considering every neighbour as a threat and breeding discontent in order to annihilate each other, we need to acknowledge the value of diversity, recognizing the unique attributes of all cultures. When genuine acknowledgement, appreciation of, and interest in diversity is experienced, respectful relationships develop.
The common threat of climate change can provide the opportunity for joint action, allowing biodiplomacy – international cooperation in environmental protection – to flourish. Biodiplomacy mobilizes all nations to commit themselves to environmental action and, through media and education channels, seeks to involve every individual on the planet in the fulfilment of this global campaign. Biodiplomacy also promotes interdependence and collaboration and focuses on the value of differentiation. Differences in religion, culture, language and biodiversity are the wealth of humanity. Just as all the parts of the human body function together in perfect coordination to maintain a healthy individual, modern society cannot secure a harmonious future without a shared vision of interdependence.
Biodiplomacy sees globalism and nationalism as the two sides of the same coin. Humanity needs a solid basis for building cohesive communities that maintain their distinct identity and contribute to the plurality and diversity of a global citizenry. We also need to be exposed more frequently and in more variations to the differences, but also to the great similarities, that surround us. Only by drawing inspiration from both our differences and similarities can we build a new paradigm, a new vision, that will lead to global harmony and peace.
World Youth Forum: A Reflection of Egypt’s Strong Diplomacy
It was my pleasure to join and met with more than five thousand youth leaders from around the globe, thousands of Egyptian youth and hundreds of world leaders, UN, regional, international affiliated bodies and governments officials, academia, innovators, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists, public figures and other influential people including ministers from Egypt and other foreign nations, ambassadors and some heads of states who gather at the “World Youth Forum 2018” held in Sharm El-Sheikh city, Sinai Peninsula, Arab Republic of Egypt from the 3rd to the 6th of November 2018; for the second year the Egyptian government and youth succeed to organize the most successful and one of the world largest international youth conventions hosted and funded by a single country.
Under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah Saeed Hussein El-Sisi the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the next coming chairperson of African Union; the second edition of the World Youth Forum was held under three important themes (Peace, Development and Creativity), were the world youth, experts, policy and decision makers use the forum as a common world platform to discuss and tackle topics, share their experiences, exchange diverse views and invert new ideas related to building and sustaining peace, the role of world leaders in achieving peace, cooperation and partnership between nations, Euro-Mediterranean collaboration , fighting and countering ideological extremism and terrorism, humanitarian efforts and responsibilities, rebuilding societies and states in post conflict, energy providing, water security and climate change.
Apart from the sideline MAAS summit or Model of Arab and African Summit where youth participants from 67African and Arab nations representing their countries; the world biggest youth gathering also discussed and debated throughout its panel sessions on issues of development, the 2063 African development agenda, enhancing cooperation opportunities between countries, employment opportunities, issues related to women empowerment and how to reduce the gender gap and inequality in the labor market, the rights, empowerment and integration of people with disabilities, role of volunteerism work in societies, building future leaders, role of innovators and entrepreneurs in global economic growth, the role of arts and cinema in shaping communities, creativity, e-sports and games, the effects of social media, digital technology and citizenship.
The Egyptian visionary president, innovative government, friendly people and its active youth did not only succeed in organizing the biggest international youth convention; but they manage creatively and diplomatically to influence the thinking of the forum foreign attendees, where the organizers introduced “The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity” which is a book written by Dr. Milad Hanna who is an Egyptian author also, the book descript the influential diversity of Egyptian nation and how Egypt manage throughout the different eras to be a linking point between different world civilizations. And the seven pillars are the Pharaonic pillar, the Greco-Roman pillar, the Coptic Pillar, the Islamic Pillar, the Arabian pillar, the Mediterranean Pillar and the African pillar, in this book the late Egyptian author came through different reasons of why Egypt belong to all this pillars and the connection between the Egyptian and other world most influential civilizations, religious, languages and geopolitical regions.
During the regime of late President Gamal Abdel Nassir Egypt use to be strong and influential country specially in Islamic, Arabian, African and other third world regions as its political and diplomatic strongest circle, but decades of negligence and ignorance has changed the geopolitical and diplomatic influence role of Egypt specially in the African continent and Asia; starting with the regime of late President Anwar El-Sadat and continued during the regimes of President Hosni Mubark and President Mohamed Morsi whom give up and turn their back to Africa and the third world only to focus their foreign relations to North Africa, Middle East, Arabian, US, Europe and Islamic regions.
The coming of President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to the power in Egypt was a major turning point for the Egyptian foreign policy to regain its political and diplomatic influence in the global arena, African continent, Islamic world, Arabian region, Asia and in the Mediterranean basin countries as it used to be for many centuries; a country call itself (the mother of the world or umm al-donya-مصر أم الدنيا in Arabic)Egypt under the leadership of President El-Sisi the is increasingly regaining its world political and diplomatic influence once again.
Through their new foreign policy goals and soft diplomacy strategy president El-Sisi and his government are repositioning and marketing Egypt regionally and internationally as a strong economy, trade and investment destination, commercial partner, cultural and religious linking point, tourism attraction, educational and learning hub; Apart from organizing a lots of regional and international conferences and other influential gatherings El-Sisi Egypt’s is hosting thousands of foreign students on his government scholarships, fellowship and private sponsoring from different countries around the world, visited by millions of tourists and adding to all this the success of Egypt to bring together world youth to its Annual World Youth Forum an initiative which recognize and proof Egypt’s influential and strong diplomacy.
The role of social media in authoritarian leaders’ nation branding and public diplomacy strategies
How can Erdogan’s Facebook posts of him holding a baby or shaking hands enhance Turkey diplomatic relations? Why Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov constantly share photos on Instagram while cuddling animals or working out? Scholarly literature has thoroughly addressed the democratic potential of digital diplomacy as a tool both for citizens to streamline social protest and for national diplomatic services to mediate and multiply the messages to reach the wider masses. Nonetheless, a vacuum still exists on the examination of how digital diplomacy – as Aronczyk suggests – can provide authoritarian leaders with a new tool for engaging foreign public in a “communication strategy […that] allows governments to better manage and control the image they project to the world.”(‘Nation branding’)
We will see – complementing the debate on how social media may serve as a tool of autocratic stability- how digital diplomacy may be an important tool in furthering a nation’s foreign policy”especially for non-democratic regimes by enabling direct interaction and engagement with foreign publics.
As Hanson argued, the technologic changes involving public diplomacy gave politicians and national diplomatic services (NDS) “the opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences”.Nevertheless, such ability, alongside the capability to segment audiences may be a double-edged sword since it could boost ‘Digital Bonapartism’– a populist rhetoric aimed at marginalizing the opposition and manipulate public opinion in a subtler manner – of authoritarian leaders.Hence, resorting also to empirical data provided by social media analytics, we will provide a snapshot of authoritarian governments’ engagement and assertiveness in digital diplomacy.
Finally, it is worth recalling that the size and emotional preference of international online public determines to a good share the digital diplomatic strategies of non-democratic regimes.
Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding
As Hocking and Melissen emphasized in their seminal work, “the propensity towards ‘hype’ in responding to technological change” alongside the tendency to resort to vague and amorphous conceptualizations provides little help in analysing ‘diplomacy in the digital age’.
Accordingly, to shed light on the concept,we will define ‘digital diplomacy’ as “solving foreign policy problems using the internet”, id est, as “conventional diplomacy through a different medium”.On the one hand, some critics held that ‘digital diplomacy’ is not diplomacy but ‘listening and dissemination’.Digital diplomacy is indeed a pivotal element of public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy latusensu, sharing with the latter mechanisms, networks and, most importantly, the task of promoting the States’ interests at the international level.
Firstly, the growing usage of social media is instrumental for countries to achieve foreign policy goals while proactively managing their image and reputation abroad. Furthermore – enlarging Szondi’s analysis of the relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding – we emphasize how digital diplomacy may also prove a useful tool in nation-branding without necessarily accounting for the full range of State’s activities to further its image abroad. Nation branding activities through social media involve an effort to develop and spread “a national discourse for global context”.Therefore, digital diplomacy may be deeply interweaved with ‘public diplomacy’: social media may be serve as the medium to convey messages to international audience, enhance a country’s international image in a broader public diplomacy discourse.In fact, as Fouts argued, “for social media, virtual world and physical interactions […] are part of a broader tapestry of interactions that a country should employ to manage its brand”.
Despite the capability of social media to disrupt the top-down political communication and their potential in harnessing countries’ exposure to nation brand-damaging event,their use in diplomacy could bolster the legitimacy of authoritarian regime by framing the discourse and winning credibility among foreign public.
Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?
Unlike the Juan Linz’s authoritarianism Idealtypus, modern ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ resort to more subtle mechanisms of repression than their counterparts in authoritarian regimes: the engagement of foreign public through social media fits in a broader strategy aimed at winning credibility on the international stage, mainstreaming ‘digital bonapartism’.
Therefore, framing the foreign policy discourse may help authoritarian regimes’ credibility and boost relationships with third countries in the long run.Whereas several studies have underscored that leaders in democratic countries are more likely to adopt social media, nonetheless no further research has been carried out on the features of autocrats’ use of social media to attain foreign policy purposes.
Moreover,the increasing involvement of Head of States’ in digital diplomacy further shrinks the role of foreign ministries as gatekeepers for other government actors.
This phenomenon is particularly evident when contrasting the digital audiences of the most followed authoritarian leaders with that of the respective MFAs. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)While MFAs are more prolific in delivering messages, their effectiveness in achieving visibility is limited. The claim that the “stimulus to centralization in foreign policy making […] is not evident in the case of digitization” may be revaluated when tackling authoritarian regimes. In this form of government strong leaders may rely on their pivotal position to convey narratives aimed at offering the international public partisan explanation of complex events.
Twitter, thanks to its brevity and its intuitive interface quickly imposed has the most widely communication tool for diplomacy, allowing world leaders to broadcast short, poignant messages to millions of followers.These inherent features of social medias give leaders an edge: being the digital realm an ‘emotional space’, the rising prominence of emotional expression may clash with the diplomatic tradition with an international public increasing demand for emotional and visual connections.
Furthermore, as clearly shown in Table 1, the ‘digital audience’ of most-followed authoritarian leaders in every region is mainly located abroad, thus increasingly the value of Twitter as a tool for convey foreign policy messages and signals.
The data gathered clearly display a massive divide in terms of the number of followers among leaders –communicating through personal accounts – and their respective MFAs.
Furthermore, through social platforms leaders may tailor messages matching contrasting narratives to target different foreign constituencies: the sheer size of messages delivered by MFA accounts -acting as simple sounding boards – may be instrumental in amplifying the leaders’ messages spreading the ‘official’ narrative set up by the Head of State/Government. Faced with the need for addressing different audiences at different levels, authoritarian leaders are enhancing their effectiveness in delivering through different social platform, resulting more effective where the message is framed in an epigrammatic or visual manner (Twitter and Instagram, respectively) than the more ‘discursive’ Facebook posts.
Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?
Digital modes of communication provide a new dimension and challenge to ‘framing’ issues”. As Manor emphasizes, narratives may be particularly important in digital diplomacy since they offer a clear explanation of complex events.
We argued that the very issue of authoritarian leaders’ engagement in social media concerns digital diplomacy’s values as a powerful tool to expand soft power reach in public diplomacy”.
Moreover, digital diplomacy offer a whole new device to convey narratives. The centralization trend allows leaders to play a crucial role in nation branding, in which the authoritarian structure enabling– as Surowiec has illustrated in his case-study – a “commitment to unification and synergy of collective identity projection [that] is hardly viable in any democratic political field”.
Finally, the narrative storytelling framework of social media – characterised by ‘the predominance of emotional content’ – enables non-democratic leaders to resort to a full range of emotional solutions offered, exploiting the tailoring and timing of the communication.
In a radical overturn of social media promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication,digital tools represent nowadays a powerful device for spreading biased narratives and influencing the foreign public appealing to the emotional sphere. Therefore, digitally-empowered autocrats are increasingly carving themselves a niche in the ‘attention economy’ of international arena imitating and learning from digital diplomacy strategies of their democratic peers.
How national diplomatic missions are adapting to a fast-changing environment
Diplomacy at a crossroads
The impact of technology in diplomacy cannot be overstated. If “twenty years ago, telegrams from embassies would arrive in paper form”, in the past years an avalanche of technological breakthroughs forced diplomatic representations to adapt. Embassies are increasingly making use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, even if that embrace is still made with reluctance by practitioners. Moreover, the phenomenon of big data suggests that the role of diplomatic missions as ‘gatherers’ of information will be enhanced, provided national diplomatic systems make good use of the ever increasing amount of data available.
Even if it is still looked with suspicion by diplomats, the role of digital diplomacy paves the way for another important shift in diplomacy, which is the rise of non-state actors that “present a formidable challenge to state primacy in the diplomatic world”. These new digital platforms give non-state actors a much easier way to reach and influence bothlocal and global audiences. Indeed, as Shaun Riordan puts it, “the sheer range of new actors – governmental and non-governmental – in international relations is truly staggering, as is their exponential growth”.
All this comes at a time when domestic circumstances are also undergoing deep change. MFAs are increasinglypressuredto cut expenditure as many countries, particularly across Europe, seek to balance their public budgets. This has led to a rationalisation of costs where possible, often with allied countries deciding to pool their resources together. This has in turn set the scene for the rise of commercial diplomacy. Increasingly “governments encourage home firms to trade, as well as seeking to make their countries an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), research and development (R&D) and knowledge”.
One example that seems to have attempted to meet all these new challenges was the period that Tom Fletcher spent as British Ambassador to Lebanon. The Ambassador chose to adopt a direct and informal communication style to reach out to his host country that included tweeting and blogging frequently. During his tenure, Mr Fletcher actively promoted trade between the United Kingdom and Lebanon by sponsoring several trade fairs and showcases of British products, while facilitating defence trade deals between the UK and Lebanon.
The impact seems to be have been highly positive. UK-Lebanon business doubled in the space of three years and the “Lebanese Armed Forces are now using British-supplied vehicles and a string of British-built watchtowers”. The period of Mr Fletcher as UK Ambassador seems to suggest a new way of diplomacy-making, with added roles for the Ambassador: perhaps more informal in style, but undoubtedly with greater public exposure and a vocal promoter of the country on cultural and commercial terms.
“The news of my death have been greatly exaggerated”: Diplomacy lives on
Despite all the changes and the lively discussion around the changes-in-waiting in the diplomatic world, it is worth pondering whether the excitement over the future of diplomatic missions is not without some hyperbole. After all, many of the novelties discussed are but means to the primary goals diplomatic missions have since time immemorial served: the advancement of a country’s interests and the protection of its citizens abroad.
Moreover, as ‘digital’ as diplomatic representations may eventually become, the role of the embassy as a building is and will remain a potentially key instrument of a country’s foreign policy. Here, the exile of Julius Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 provides a clear – if unlikely – example. After being accused of crimes of sexual nature in Sweden and declaring himself a political prisoner, Mr Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador. As at the time he was in London, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which he has not left since. Even if this is an admittedly unusual example, it nonetheless shows that embassies remain irreplaceable; indeed, diplomacy can never be fully uploaded onto a ‘cloud’. When Tom Fletcher writes that the model diplomat in 2025 will not “see the embassy as a building, but as an idea”, that idea cannot in any case be disassociated from the building itself.
Embassies will remain essential assets of a country’s national diplomatic system. They retain replaceable function in terms of a country’s power projection worldwide and in protecting its citizens abroad in emergency situations.
However, the tectonic shifts we are witnessing will force the structure of embassies to change radically. There is a multiplication of available information due to issues such as big data and the emergence of new digital platforms and social media networks. Thus, embassies are likely to be, in the words of Tom Fletcher, “managers” instead of “creators” of information when communicating with their national Foreign Offices.
Naturally, this is not a model that will necessarily fit the realities of all states in the world. First of all, there is a high degree of agency in the diplomacy envisioned by Mr Fletcher. Not all diplomats are or will ever be “authentic, flexible, connected and influential”. Moreover, the economic, social and cultural particularities of each country will always define the priorities it sets out for its diplomatic representations to achieve. It thus follows that national diplomatic systems were always highly asymmetric among each other and will undoubtedly remain so – in number, size and scope. For instance, the United Kingdom has 226 diplomatic missions abroad; Estonia, at 45, has far less. Nevertheless, both countries have issues they will want their diplomatic missions to tackle, and both have political, economic and cultural agendas they will seek to project abroad. Those topics will often interact: Portugal’s economy diplomacy agency AICEP’s work in projecting the country as being at the forefront of digital innovation was certainly a key factor in convincing Egypt to buy Portugal’s public administration innovation technologies. In this kind of synergies lies the key to overcoming the challenges diplomatic representation will face in the future.
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