To say we are living in unprecedented times is becoming both hackneyed and tiring in much the same way as we all are becoming during these times of quarantine and uncertainty. Indeed, COVID-19 continues to change every fabric of what we once knew as normal. Economies are all on the brink and misinformation is spreading more rapidly than the actual virus itself.
In fact, the virus is taking its toll on our lives is various ways – beyond the biological. In my own motherland of Italy, it has rattled our lives as the world watched the images of tankers whisking away bodies in the northern city of Bergamo – bodies of the infected victims who were too numerous to be carried out in emergency vehicles, etching itself into our psyche of the danger of this pandemic. In many in developing countries such as Morocco and South Africa, the lives of their citizens seem to be falling apart around them as forced quarantine means a double death for the rural poor, asking themselves “do I die from corona or do I die from starvation?”
Here in Casablanca, where I find myself oddly quarantined in lieu of my home in London, the virus has been called “The Great Revealer” – as it is quickly revealing deficiencies of the world that our illusions have tried to hide.
This includes the instability of many markets, such as the oil market where prices have been falling to historic lows due to failing demand and the fallacy of American supremacy as many states divided on how to respond to the crisis, bolstered by the lack of federal leadership under President Trump. Most heart-breaking for the global community though is the absence of the United States as the leading authority on how to unite the world and work together to bring us all out of this dark period in our history. It’s the excepted role of a superpower and in its failure to do so – even within its own borders – it has unconsciously lost its leadership role in the eyes of the world.
It is a strange time indeed, but one thing this crisis is revealing is the need to continue to work together. The need for partnerships. And also, the need for diplomacy.
Political Economist Phillippe Legrain argued recently in Foreign Policy that COVID-19 will mark the end of globalisation and Forbes Contributor Kenneth Rapoza foretells the post- corona world ending the “decades old system” of globalisation as we know it, as both countries and businesses revert inwards and travel less due to suspicion of the other. But I argue that to assume that COVID-19 will kill globalisation is not just incorrect – it is completely ignorant of human history and the human need for interaction to assume.
Global exchanges have been occurring in one form or another for thousands of years, from the Indus Valley in today’s India to the Taino and Carib people of pre-Columbus America.
But in these dire times, diplomacy – as the art of partnership building it is – is needed now more than ever in order to navigate this new era in which we are finding ourselves in and to rebuild our economies with a greater understanding of our global connectedness.
Let’s start with looking at the concept from a political standpoint, as to refrain from looking at diplomacy from a political lens would be like looking at medicine without considering the patient. COVID-19 is shifting what we understood have been the global leaders over this past century.
The failure of the US leadership in coming up with an appropriate response to the pandemic and both the very apparent and visual display of complete disunity within the United States (which has already been building up even during the era of Obama) has only confirmed one thing for many nations around the world: the power of the United States is gone. Not just because of Trump’s isolation political views and counter effective foreign policy moves (such as the withdrawing of US troops in Northern Syria late last year), but because the US is in too much of a mess in order to help others get out of theirs. Lack of an active health system in addition to heightened political polarity and an unpredictable (as well as unreliable) foreign policy had left many countries to look elsewhere for their diplomatic “northern star” as a guide.
In this uncertain world, a blank canvas is made for the diplomatic world. Now is the time for countries to build alliances more than ever within their own regions and even with new potential partners in order to build both an economy and a presence on the global stage that not only can help them navigate the uncertain waters of the post-corona world, but also began to narrate a new perspective in global dealings.
Governments, especially of developing nations, should take this time to engage collectively with great diplomatic force to build alliances in trade, social impact and regional peace keeping (especially in volatile areas such as the Sahel or Lake Chad region in Sub-Saharan Africa) to begin designing an engagement that works better for them collectively and using a united diplomatic coalition, engaged with potential governments, organisations and stakeholders to take on new strategies
This crisis provides a blank canvas for many countries to work together to bring greater good for their regions and countries in order to continue to interact globally to progress these ambitions. Now, whether there is genuine sincerity in the country and political will is another thing but taking this new paradigm into consideration is a step in the right direction.
Meet the new diplomats
A recent report from Bloomberg projects travel is to be lower in the coming years due to fears of contracting corona, until the development of a vaccine is found. Yet even with the introduction of a vaccine, many organisations will have so much shock from the pandemic that they will have greater reluctance to travel at all.
Refusing to travel is not possible – it has never been possible for humans in our history on this planet, going from the great migrations of homo sapiens from Africa to the exploration of Portuguese Explorer Vasco da Gama.
We need to travel – but for those unwilling to take the initial risk (or looking to reduce the amount of people traveling) creating a diplomatic corps within companies would be the best approach.
Former British Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher argued this back in 2016 on the potential for this diplomatic paradigm shift and Google has been supposedly exploring establishing its own diplomatic corps in order to engage with countries and key stakeholders abroad.
At my own firm, Pax Tecum Global Consultancy, this has been our primary modus operandi
– we are humanitarian diplomats who represent impact investors, social enterprises, NGOs and even developing countries with other international governments in order to progress business, investment and projects that lead to greater social change.
And the role of the diplomat has been carved out with the need to travel and establishing a global presence, but not having everyone go. With the fear of travelling likely to still be embedded in our minds, it makes sense for businesses to establish a dedicated group or department within its company that is devoted to “diplomatic engagement” abroad and travel. Be it with key stakeholders, investors, partners or even governments themselves, establishing such a core will help the transition during this unsettling time and continue to establish global confidence in the importance of partnership (which it itself is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals number 17).
Dedicated diplomats who can represent the organisation’s interest internationally can help reduce the quantity of travel, but also allow for those with the savvy for negotiation and assessing risk to take lead progress in line with the strategic endeavours of the country. All this, while also demonstrating to global partners and collaborators one strong and key message – we’re open for business.
In these unprecedented times, we need to take unprecedented action, and this means being both creative yet cognisant of both the world around us and the ever-increasing truth that we all belong to each other – and not on individual geopolitical islands.
Now, more than ever, the power of diplomacy can be utilised to not only carve out a new global order that sees greater partnerships at both a regional and functional geopolitical scale, but also adapts new forms for the use of the diplomat, with resident diplomats deployed from both businesses and other organisations looking to maintain and establish their global presence in this travel adverse world post-corona.
And we need to let diplomacy happen to heal this world during and post crisis, because the biggest causality will not only be the countless people who are dying from this pandemic, but also the failure to understand that anything that happens in this world affects us all, and partnership and working together will be the only way to get us through everything else that comes out way. COVID-19 or not.
Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva
19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders.
18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?
Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit
Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?
In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)
Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?
One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE) hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).
Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India, could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:
, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’
GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league — extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021. Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.
GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.
In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.
Analyzing the role of OIC
Composed of fifty-seven countries and spread over four continents, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is the second-largest intergovernmental body following the United Nations (UN). And it is no secret that the council was established in the wake of an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Safeguarding and defending the national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of its member states is the significant provision of the OIC’s charter. OIC charter also undertakes to strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among member states. Uplifting Islamic values, practicing cooperation in every sphere among its members, contributing to international peace, protecting the Islamic sites, and assisting suppressed Muslim community are other significant features of its charter.
Recently, the world witnessed the 11-days long conflict between Hamas and Israel. In a recent episode of the clash between two parties, Israel carried out airstrikes on Gaza, claiming many innocent Palestinian lives. The overall death toll in the territory rose to 200, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1305 injured, says Hamas-run health ministry. This event was met with resentment from people across the world, and they condemned Israeli violence. After 11 days of violence, the Israeli government and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. The event of Israeli violence on Palestinians has called the role of OIC into question. The council, formed in the aftermath of the onslaught on Al-Aqsa mosque, seemed to adopt a lip service approach to the conflict. However, the call for stringent measures against Israeli aggression by the bloc was not part of its action.
Likewise, the Kashmir issue, which has witnessed atrocities of Indians on innocent Kashmiris, looks up to the OIC for its resolution. Last year, during the 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Niamey, Niger, the CFM reaffirmed its strong support for the Kashmir cause. The OIC categorically rejected illegal and unilateral actions taken by India on August 5 to change the internationally recognized disputed status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and demanded India rescind its illegal steps. However, the global community seems to pay deaf ears to the OIC’s resolution. The Kashmir issue and the Palestine issue are the core issues of the world that are witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis. And the charter of the bloc that aims to guard the Muslim ummah’s interest rings hollow. About a year ago, the event that made rounds on electronic and social media was the occurring of the KL summit, which reflected another inaction of the OIC. The move of influential Muslim countries (Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia), to sail on the idea to establish another forum to counter the OIC, manifested the rift in the bloc.
Many OIC countries are underdeveloped and poorly governed and are home to instability, violence, and terrorism. The consequences of the violence and terrorism in the OIC countries have been devastating. According to Forbes, 7 out of 10 countries, which suffer most from terrorism are OIC members. The Syrian conflict is another matter of concern in the Mideast, looking up to OIC for a way out. An immense number of people have lost their lives in the Civil war in Syria.
Several factors contribute to the inefficiency of the bloc. The first and foremost reason is the Saudi-Iran stalemate. Influential regional powers (Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the Mideast share strained links following the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Both sides dissent each other on many fronts. Saudi Arabia accuses Tehran of interfering in its internal affairs, using terrorism as a tool to intimidate neighbors, fuelling sectarianism, and equipping proxies to de-stabilize and overthrow the legitimate government. Locked in a proxy war in the Mideast, the KSA and Iran vie for regional dominance. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program is met with strong resentment in the KSA since it shifts the Balance of Power towards Iran. Such developments play a vibrant role in their stalemate, and the bloc’s effectiveness is hostage to the Saudi-Iran standoff.
Political and social exclusion in many OIC states is the norm of the day, contributing to upheaval and conflict. In OIC countries, the level of political participation and political and social integration is weak. This fact has rendered OIC countries vulnerable to unrest. Arab Spring in 2011 stands as the best example. Furthermore, conflicts, since the mid-1990s, have occurred in weak states that have encountered unrest frequently.
Saudi Arabia has tightened its grip on the OIC. The reason being, the OIC secretariat and its subsidiary bodies are in the KSA. More importantly, the KSA’s prolific funding to the bloc enhances its influence on the bloc. One example includes, in the past, the KSA barred an Iranian delegation from the OIC meeting in Jeddah. Saudi authorities have not issued visas for the Iranian participants, ministry spokesman, says Abbas Mousavi. “The government of Saudi Arabia has prevented the participation of the Iranian delegation in the meeting to examine the deal of the century plan at the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Mousavi said, the Fars news agency reported. Given the Iranian growing influence and its access to nuclear capabilities, the KSA resorted to using financial leverage to reap support from Arab countries against Iran. For instance, in past, Somalia and several other Arab states such as Sudan and Bahrain received a commitment of financial aid from Saudi Arabia on the same day they cut ties with Iran. Furthermore, the summits of OIC, GCC, and Arab League are perceived as an effort by Saudi Arabia to amass support against Tehran.
Division in the Muslim world and their clash of interests is yet another rationale behind its inefficacy. These days, many Muslim countries are bent on pursuing their interests rather than paying commitment to their principles, that is, working collectively for the upkeep of the Muslim community. Last year, the governments of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that they had agreed to the full normalization of relations. Following this, the Kingdom of Bahrain became another Muslim country to normalize its links with Israel. Such moves by the Islamic countries weaken the OIC agenda against Israel.
OIC’s efficacy would be a distant dream unless the Saudi-Iran deadlock finds its way. For this purpose, Pakistan can play a vital role in mediating between these two powers. Pakistan has always been an active player in the OIC and played its role in raising its voice against Islamophobia, Palestine Issue, and the Kashmir issue. Shunning their interests and finding the common goals of the Muslim ummah, should be the utmost priority for the members of the bloc. Every OIC member ought to play its part in the upkeep of the bloc. Furthermore, a split in the bloc should come to an end since it leads to the polarization of member states towards regional powers. Many OIC countries are rich in hydrocarbons (a priceless wealth, which is the driver for the growth of a country); if all OIC members join hands and enhance their partnership in this sphere they can fight against energy security. And OIC is the crux for magnifying cooperation among its member states to meet their energy needs.
In this era of globalization, multilateralism plays a pivotal part. No one can deny the significance of intergovernmental organizations since they serve countries in numerous ways. In the same vein, OIC can serve Muslim ummah in multiple ways; if it follows a course of adequate functioning.
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