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Diplomacy

Celebrity Diplomacy: Are they biting a bigger piece than they can chew?

Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and U2 lead singer and ONE co-founder Bono at Milan Expo 2015. WFP/Giulio D'Adamo

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In this book, Andrew Cooper who is a Political Scientist tries to analyses and assesses the role of celebrity into the world of Diplomacy which is changing its course from being state-centric to incorporating transnational and global elements. This book tries to capture the roles played by celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and CEOs who operate across the globe, have grabbed new roles on the world stage, simultaneously levering their access to world leaders and mass audiences by exercising their star power to the world of diplomacy and humanitarian cause, identifying both the benefits and the pitfalls of this thoroughly modern phenomenon. He also talks about how celebrities are constantly under scrutiny and often seen as a frivolous lot around professional diplomats.

The author in the first chapter tries to define what and who comes under the ambit of celebrity diplomat and how they are different from some professional diplomats who also gains the status of celebrity by being under the constant public eye. He highlights how the selection of Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as Time magazine’s 2005 persons of the year serves as just the most visible measure of how new types of celebrities performing functions of diplomacy and an expanded range of activities are being recognized on the international stage through them.

The current wave of celebrities squarely targets the arenas of global governance, global equity, and global regulatory issues. Efforts to end global poverty, to cancel the debt, to expand pro-grams of official development assistance, and to focus on HIV/AIDS and other pandemic health issues, all of which are heavily concentrated on Africa, would be on the top of most current lists of celebrity activism.

He throughout the book constantly point out the domination of the Anglo-sphere in the world of celebrity diplomacy, giving narrow space to outsiders, thereby keeping them under control.

The authors point out how some celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye tried to capture elements of the engaged public life while working with UNICEF, but the work of diplomacy took a full-fledged shape only after the end of cold-war with a massive surge of technical innovation and expansion. Various celebrities bring their star power to work for the collective good of humanity and enter into the world of diplomacy. Celebrity diplomats comprise of no longer only of the ambassadors chosen for UN but also various free-floaters, such a late Princess Diana, U2 singer Bono whose advocacy work has had impacts on many governments. Philanthropists like Bill Gates, George Soros are also breaking new grounds not only because of the size of their financial contribution but also because of their personal involvement in global public policy debates. Some celebrities provide ground and field which requires celebrities’ attention like Oprah Winfrey.

He uses U2 singer Bono as an epitome of a celebrity diplomat, who navigated the traditional boundaries between diplomacy and policymaking, working through both the International Forum and the corridor of national political power. He continuously changed his tactics as he continued to evolve. Bob Geldof, another celebrity who the author addressed as an anti-diplomat, had the same effect as Bono in the world of diplomacy though his characteristics were contrary to that of a celebrity diplomat.

UN has also revamped itself to include celebrities who were genuinely interested in working for it. It was after a lot of discussions, interviews, and debate that celebrity Angelina Jolie was selected to work with the UN. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged celebrity involvement in the UN. Celebrities carving a niche for themselves by digressing from the path they have been told to tread on like Princess Diana. Most of the book the author is limited to the English-speaking West who dominated the world of diplomacy.

It is only in the final chapters that he devoted his attention to celebrities from Non-West taking the role of diplomacy offering views countering the Eurocentric part of the world order. He states how celebrity diplomacy has expanded and incorporated fragment from all around the world bringing with them different accents, cultures, and opinions. He highlights how Bob Geldof during the Live 8 concert was responsible for his controversial selection process, as he was accused of reproducing a system of “musical apartheid” in his bias toward featuring older white “gods” of rock over African stars in the concerts under his command.1

Thus, the interference of people from the Anglo-sphere dominating and speaking about issues centered around Africa and Africans started hinting at the new parentalism or an expression of benign neocolonialism. There have been a few celebrities from the African continent like great Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, Maal but it was only later in the 21st century that various non-west celebrities started entering and bringing their localism with cosmopolitanism in the arena of diplomacy. Various Japanese celebrities like Misako Konno, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, and so on not only entered into the world of diplomacy but played their own game by being non-conformists. The author further spoke about how the need to have a democratic government is necessary for various non-state actors or various activism to flourish outside the state purview otherwise entertainment or celebrity diplomats are left with no choice but to balance between their loyalty for the government or help in accommodating the government in power. Various celebrities like Imran Khan. Pakistani cricketer, George Weah and others used activism as a means to get hold of political positions and power. Instead of continuing to act as a force of moderation and tolerance, Imran began to pander to a domestic constituency after becoming a candidate in national elections, most notably siding with minority obscurantist voices over unsubstantiated news reports in 2005 regarding.2 This led to considerable damage to his reputation across the globe.

India has also entered into the world of diplomacy through people like Arundhati Roy, Shabana Azmi, and Amitabh Bachchan who have not only offered their fresh perspective but also reciprocated in the fashion and technique similar to North. However, the biggest problem that non-Anglo-sphere celebrities faced was to attract the same level of publicity as their counter-parts from the U.S. /UK hubs. The celebrity diplomats in the North should embrace their south-ern counterpart is the way forward, humanity should be the underlying principle in the diplo-matic world.

Diplomacy is a complex activity with a vast array of actors.

The authors draw our attention to the fact that the celebrities bring an added value to the repertoire of diplomacy and global affairs as they operate beyond intergovernmental processes. Celebrities provide a convenient surrogate for, and a conduit in response to, the traditional bonds that hold society together, performing mobilizing, interpreting, and, most importantly, mediating functions that have been eroded within traditional institutions.“When a celebrity talks, people listen; there is no better messenger.”3 It is thus, important to accept that importance and role of celebrity diplomats, as keeping them away from scrutiny will propel them to become ‘loose canons’ who are not accountable to anyone.

Thus, we need to accept that the sheer scale, intensity, and resilience of celebrities have been successful in imparting both a buzz and a bite. Celebrities are better placed than politicians to convey important messages. We need to bifurcate the celebrities who use diplomacy as career enhancement from the sincerely working ones, and for that, we need to understand that celebrity diplomacy is not a mere fad. They can focus the entire world’s attention on a problem, and they can help build a groundswell of public support for the work that the professionals are doing. Celebrities not only blur but effectively break down the barriers between domestic and international politics. their presence as participants who look, behave, and speak very differently than those actors who traditionally occupy the elevated space on global affairs says much about how these orthodox assumptions are no longer valid.

The only problem with this book is its limitation and biases towards the Global North which the author has accepted himself. Otherwise, it is an interesting read for someone who wants to read about soft power exerted by celebrities in today’s globalized world and its effects on the national and global levels.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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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

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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