Around the world, digital diplomacy has received growing attention as Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs), embassies, and diplomats increasingly take to cyberspace to communicate and engage with foreign publics. Viewed as a new soft-power frontier, digital diplomacy seems to mark a new milestone in the evolution of public diplomacy, this time in cyberspace. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, digital diplomacy remains a marginal feature as both a diplomatic practice and a scholarly pursuit. One reason for this situation relates to the region’s lack of experience with public diplomacy, an area of transnational government communication seeking to impact foreign publics’ attitudes for the purpose of affecting foreign policy outcomes. In the age of the internet and social media, the historical primacy of state propaganda seems to have created a critical gap in the MENA region’s communications with foreign publics, with very few statesmen and leaders making it to the top global diplomatic influencers level. This paper provides an analytical overview of the situation of digital diplomacy in the MENA region in terms of challenges and opportunities. The author argues that while there are significant variations among Arab states’ participation in cyber diplomacy, the whole region seems properly poised for engagement with this facet of public diplomacy.
MENA, Digital Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Virtual Space
2020 Special Focus—Solidarity in the Digital Public Sphere: From Extremes to Common Ground?
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Aharjah, United Kingdom
Mohammad Ayish is currently Professor and Head of the Department of Mass Communication at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). He holds a Doctoral Degree in International Communication from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (1986). He has worked at universities in Jordan and the UAE. One of his administrative assignments was Dean of the College of Communication at the University of Sharjah, UAE (2002-2008). Professor Ayish has approximately 65 published articles and book chapters in addition to four authored/edited books. His most recent books are: The New Arab Public Sphere (2008), Berlin: Frank & Tim; Explorations in Global Media Ethics (co-edited) (2012), London: Routledge; and Arab Media Globalization and Emerging Media Industries, London: Polity Press. His research interests include Arab and International Communications, and new media technologies, social media and media ethics.