All posts by vs0553a

Wishful Thinking. . . US Rhetoric on Egypt

Tahrir Square

Amy Hawthorne, of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, posted a piece about the Obama Administration’s messaging on the current situation in Egypt.

She states:

“A review of key statements [by the Obama Administration] on Egypt during the past month shows the wishful thinking shaping the discourse as the United States struggles to reconcile its declared support for democracy with the reality unfolding on the ground.”

On March 24, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf while discussing the situation in Egypt described politically motivated arrests, detentions, and convictions as “pretty significant bumps in the road here as we’ve tried to work with Egypt to move its democratic transition forward.” In the same statement, she referred twice to a “democratic transition” and to “a country that’s moving toward democracy.”

Sequentially, on March 28, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in remarks to the New York Times the United States was concerned about the “shockingly large” numbers of people sentenced to death, but continued to believe that stability in Egypt would come through “sticking to a democratic road map.”

Hawthrone’s article continues with multiple examples of mixed messaging by the Obama Administration, expressing disdain for acts of the current authority in Egypt, while simultaneously expressing hope for a democratic government.

These statements lead me to one major observation; that the current relationship between the US and Egypt – which can most eloquently be summed up by the Facebook status: “it’s complicated” – is in fact complicated. The US is conflicted by the need to protect US national interests and the desire to fly the banner of democracy for all to emulate. This confusion is the reason for the convoluted PD strategy and indicative of the weak foreign policy in the MENA region.

Public diplomacy scholars Edward Comor and Hamilton Bean state that, “ethical public diplomacy should be pursued, i.e., a public diplomacy that embraces genuine (rather than contrived) dialogue.” You cannot persuade anti-American Muslims by engaging in rhetoric that is not evident in diplomatic practice. By advocating for democracy and simultaneously supporting autocratic regimes, that violate the principles of which you promote, you lose all credibility.

If the current Administration wants to avoid making the same mistakes of the Bush Administration in the Middle East the United States will need to reorient its policy. Until then, the current rhetoric of the US will fail to resonate with strategic audiences, and the legitimacy of the USG will be as muddled as the situation in Egypt.

Wishful Thinking: The Obama Administration’s Rhetoric on Democracy and Human Rights in Egypt

Princess Sheikha Mozah: Qatar’s Untapped Soft Power?

Sheikha Mozah

Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the former emir of Qatar, is a woman below the radar of many mainstream Westerners; but on full display to fashion world. So is such a fashionista that, Vogue Italia once labeled her their “Obsession of the Day.”

However, her notoriety does not extend far from the runway. Sheikha Moza has failed to become a well-known name or royal “brand,” the way Diana once was, and the Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Rania have become. Which begs the question, why?

Sheikha Mozah, like her counterparts, is not only a fashion trendsetter but: highly educated, beautiful and a philanthropist. She uses her public stature to promote education, science, and community development. She executes her royal duties just as well – if not better- as any other royal.

The Daily Beast attributes Sheikha Mozah’s lack of fame due to her conservative dress and religious observance. She the second wife of three, never seen in public bare-legged, and always wears a hijab. The Daily Beast goes on to suggest that this makes it hard for Western women to relate to her and her culture.

I however see her distinct style as a way to communicate to the world who she is and what her country and religion are all about. With a good communications team, she could revamp her image and propel herself onto the international stage. Brand her, not as another woman oppressed by her religion, but a woman empowered by her religion.

She could use her stature to demystify Islam and open the door for cultural exchanges with the undertone that Muslim women are not trapped by their religion, but choose practice their faith. To have a woman with her education, wealth and influence change the tone about what it means to be a Muslim woman others will begin to gain a better understanding of the religion and its culture. Increased understanding of the Muslim world would do a lot to build partnerships, increase prosperity and maintain security in all regions of the world.

Why You’ve Never Heard of the World’s Best-Dressed Royal

A New Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

Hollywood celebrities are flocking to China in droves to promote their most recent films. The impetus behind this new trend in trying to woo the Chinese on major Hollywood movies is the fact that mainland China’s box office is grossing big numbers. At the box office, the fourth quarter of 2009, China grossed $1.3 billion dollars – that is second in the world only to the U.S.

Some Hollywood films are grossing higher numbers at the Chinese box office than in the U.S. domestic market. This has Hollywood taking notice. Cinema is no longer a monopoly controlled by the U.S. China is realizing the power of the consumer: how it drives what is produced and the type of product supplied.

Artisan Gateway President Rance Pow said “With Chinese language film production and performance on the rise, wooing Chinese film patrons to cinemas becomes a competitive issue.” Chinese consumption driving demand allows for films catering to the taste of the Chinese public to enter the market and potentially thrive. One example of this is the film Oz: the Great and Powerful, a flop in the U.S. but a success in the East with a deal in the works for a sequel

China’s entry into the film market is a public diplomacy opportunity. Hollywood celebrities come to the country on a de facto cultural exchange; they share their works of art and learn about the interest of the Chinese. This serves as a good learning tool for both sides involved. The U.S. will begin to “understand” what appeals the Chinese audience and the Chinese become exposed to America in a non propagandist manner, organic public diplomacy at its best.

“Check” The State Department Makes its Move

The New York Times article, How the Kremlin Harnesses the Internet, is a piece over how the Russian government stealthily patrols the internet, by not explicitly censoring, but rather, by “targeted so-called denial-of-service attacks, with most of the site’s visitors receiving a “page cannot be found” message in their browsers.”

The Kremlin has been a great player in working with the internet to accomplish its mission both in blocking communication and in disseminating information. The United States struggling to keep up, has recently decided to step up its game . Recently, the Broadcasting Board of Governors published a piece this week about the Department of State’s (DoS) use of social media to respond to Putin’s propaganda machine. While the article focused heavily on The Obama Administration’s lack of financial support to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) it was an interesting piece highlighting the change underway at the DoS.

An excerpt from the article reads, “BBG Watch has learned that the Obama Administration is taking about half a million dollars in emergency extra funding to the BBG. . . It is needed to effectively counter Putin’s propaganda through multimedia outreach.” The article goes on to state that, “The State Department and the National Security Council have surprised many observers by their quick response to the crisis in Ukraine” and that “Susan Rice and Richard Stengel deserve credit not only for realizing early on that President Putin was engaged in what Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt has called “a massive propaganda war,” but also for mobilizing the NSC and the State Department staff and resources to provide quick responses to false and misleading claims pushed by the Kremlin.

The BBG’s praise of recent State Department tactics, bring to mind public diplomacy scholar Pammant’s arguments for the usage of new media platforms as a way to “exert influence and develop resources.” Pammant states that if an If the State Department is able to use social media tools as a way to advance policy goals in a way that is authentic it will need a network of relevant actors as part of their communication effort.

It is a big leap for the State Department to become more responsive in providing news and information from the United States to Russia, Ukraine, and many other nations in the region. But this is just a first step, many more will need to follow in order to keep the Department of State a relevant player in the game.

A Different Side of China

The Economist this week featured an article about Chinese consumer spending titled “Doing it Their Way”. The article is a response to the release  of the documentary film “Tiny Times” by Guo Jingming.  The film follows the lives of China’s  young elite.  The film shows a the high life of China; a side rarely shown. The Economist article focuses on “China’s rush towards consumerism” and its global implications.

However after reading the article I  brought up questions in regards to what this revelation means for China’s public diplomacy efforts. China a country hyper-aware of its global image now has to deal with the burden of being perceived as an rich and powerful country.   China, a country that has an ambivalent  stance, markets its self to the worlds as both developed and developing may no longer be able to fake the ladder. China’s  has contributed more than any other country to the growth in global consumption between 2011-2013. (Economist).  Even some of its poorest cities are quickly increasing  consumer spending.

China  is indeed a developed country and  people are beginning to take notice.  From a public diplomacy stand point that could challenge China’s public diplomacy efforts and outreach to the worlds poorer countries.   When China courts potential developing countries to make  trade deals and lure medical practitioners , China will have less of a case that it is any “different” from the Western world.  Evidence of this trend has already begun to appear on social media sites where many people have took to different platforms to criticize the lifestyle and materialism of China’s elite as documented in Guo’s film.