Please Retweet: We come in #Peace! #Listening #Seriously

PITAPOLICY is attending the 2012 Spring World Bank & IMF meetings and is grateful for being asked to participate in the Arab American Institute’s Emerging Leaders Training Day, April 19th–more on that in a future post. Observations of the IMF World Bank discussion on the pita-consuming region will be shared for this coming Wednesday’s post, April 25th.In the meantime, PITAPOLICY asks you to comment on the story below regarding US program to implement Peace Corps in Tunisia and send your responses to pitapolicy [at] gmail [dot] com. PITA-consumers, let’s pick up where we left off…

Please Retweet: We Come in #Peace! #Listening #Seriously 😉

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum & Ramah Kudaimi

We ask what the US Peace Corps will tweet about public diplomacy and engagement in the Arab world.  After a 16 year hiatus, the US Peace Corps is reopening operations in Tunisia. The first group of American volunteers is scheduled to arrive this year, and their assignments will focus on English language training and youth skills development in order to help prepare Tunisian students and professionals for future employment.

Why would a middle-income country participate in a US program that historically engages lower-income countries such as Vietnam and Mali?  Tunisia boasts the best education system in Africa, and the only other Arab countries the Peace Corps operates in are Jordan and Morocco, which ranks much lower than Tunisia in the UNDP human development index.

“Tunisia is one of our oldest friends in the world,” President Obama said when announcing the resumption of the program last October, pointing out that Tunisia was one of the first countries to recognize the United States. “I told the prime minister that thanks to his leadership, thanks to the extraordinary transformation that’s taking place in Tunisia and the courage of its people, I’m confident that we will have at least another two centuries of friendship between our two countries. And the American people will stand by the people of Tunisia in any way that we can during this remarkable period in Tunisian history.”

Thus the decision regarding the Peace Corps seems to be the latest example of the United States attempting to react positively to the Arab uprisings, which had their start in Tunisia in December 2010. Considering that the Arab world’s views of the United States and President Obama are increasingly negative and that 73 percent of Arabs see Israel and the United States as the two most threatening countries, there is a great need for the United States to alter its relationship to the region. But by focusing on providing services and aid as a way to shore up its image, the United States is failing to truly understand once again what is at the core of anti-American sentiment in the region.

Back in 2006 a GAO report for the House International Relations Committee attempted to review the reasons for anti-American sentiment in countries with significant Muslim populations. The goal was to examine what the United States could do to improve its image and reduce the tension between “Muslims and Americans” and thereby improve relations between the “West and everyone else.”  Considering that the majority of Arabs are Muslim, several Arab countries were included in the report.

Putting aside the problematic use of terms, what we learned from Americans abroad was that our public diplomacy strategy was paralyzed.  But this was not entirely true considering the new smart marketing and public relations campaigns the United States was engaged in under Charlotte Beers’ innovative leadership as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs.
Facebook was big, and perhaps there were interactive American websites. Twitter was not yet officially part of the foreign policy and diplomacy tool box and neither were pre-approved blogs.  We learned about the Echo Chamber, a Karen Hughes initiative for information sharing about lessons learned in other countries.  Then there were her “Listening Tours” to the region which tended to revert back to “Talking At” tours.

During the recent Social Media Week in DC, State Department officials shared their updated tactics.  The tone was not that different from six years ago. For example several explained how tweeting from embassy missions aided Foreign Services Officers in sharing the American message when they were limited in face to face interactions with foreign publics due to restricted physical security measures.  The “democratization of information access” was supposed to be aiding in our public diplomacy strategy by making our diplomats more accessible to the people in the countries they were serving.

What was very clear as well was that the foreign policy message had not changed. And here is where the problem lies: our public diplomacy strategy continues to be divorced from our foreign policy. What the State Department either fails to realize or refuses to address is that no amount of PR or rebranding techniques can address the primary goal of neutralizing anti-American sentiment because the problem is not that Arabs don’t get the American message, but rather that they get it loud and clear every time the United States chooses to support oppressive regimes instead of promoting human rights.

From a pragmatic point of view, why would anyone decide to change his or her point of view about the United States just because a newer technology is projecting the same message? It is like turning the volume up (or down) on a new song by the same musical artist. The voice is the same. Obama might choose to overlook US support for the 24-year dictatorial regime of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, but the people of Tunisia won’t be quick to forgive and forget just because Americans are now coming to teach them English or there are American agencies tweeting job tips to them.

Maybe it’s time for the United States to engage in “raw listening” and realize that the problem isn’t that way the message is being relayed but the message itself.

 

The social media peace corps

 Original Source: Al Jazeera English
No amount of PR or rebranding techniques can address the primary goal of neutralising anti-American sentiment.

Washington, DC –  After a 16 year hiatus, the US Peace Corps is reopening operations in Tunisia. The first group of volunteers is scheduled to arrive this year and their assignments will focus on English language training and youth skills development in order to help prepare Tunisian students and professionals for future employment.

Why would a middle-income country participate in a US programme that historically engages lower-income countries such as Vietnam and Mali? Tunisia boasts the best education system in Africa, and the only other Arab countries the Peace Corps operates in are Jordan and Morocco, which rank much lower than Tunisia in the UNDP human development index…continued here.

Notes: An earlier version of the  complete article may be viewed on Al Jazeera English’s Op-Ed Section here.  Special thanks to Khaled Beydoun for facilitating the publication of the above article. Khaled is a civil rights attorney based in DC, and may be followed on Twitter as @legyptian.  
Also a special thanks to Dr. Stephen King, PITAPOLICY’s professor who first introduced her to Tunisia’s political economy issues; PITAPOLICY’s baba for emphasizing that writing is more important than talking –and to an excellent writing partner who inspires PITAPOLICY to get to the point.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Analysis, Interests, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *