DOHA — My conversation with two North African friends ranged widely, from the role of satellite television in the Arab world to the prospects for electoral reform in the region. Then we came to how other nations would deal with the new dynamics of Arab politics. One of my friends said, “In the past, diplomacy has been with the leaders, but now it must be with the people.”
In other words, public diplomacy will now be of unprecedented importance for governments, such as that of the United States, that want to develop constructive relationships with what are in many ways new nations. Not since the crumbling of European communism in 1989 have we seen such a significant transformation of the character of so many states.
The development of new politics in the Arab world requires an equally sweeping redesign of U.S. public diplomacy. To a great extent, America’s public diplomacy, like that of many other nations, has drifted farther and farther into self-promoting “branding” that will win over only the most gullible. Such an audience is unlikely to be found among Arabs who are deeply suspicious of the patrons of recently ousted dictators.
Also, Western policymakers’ fascination with social media has gone too far.
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