'Diplomats need narrative tone in digital age'

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Diplomats need narrative tone in digital age
Omar Saif Ghobash and Thomas Fletcher at the Emirates Literature Festival 2018. - KT photo by Mohammad Mustafa Khan

Dubai - With all opportunities and risks that social media brings, the biggest risk for a diplomat is not being part of the online conversation


Sherouk Zakaria

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Published: Sat 3 Mar 2018, 7:34 PM

Last updated: Sat 3 Mar 2018, 9:38 PM

In the current digital age, diplomats have to use online platforms to represent their country's values and create dialogue with all segments of society.
In a panel discussion at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Omar Saif Ghobash, the UAE's Ambassador to France, joined the former British ambassador to Lebanon Thomas Fletcher, in a conversation on digital diplomacy.
Both young diplomats agreed that politicians should be authentic and focus on representing the values of their countries rather than branding themselves.
Referring to US President Donald Trump's controversial tweets, Fletcher said while they're authentic and engaging for making the world speak about Trump, the tweets are not purposeful and fail to build America's reputation in the world.
Fletcher, currently visiting professor of International Relations at NYUAD, said diplomats have to speak in the language of the people, in order to include everyone in the conversation. "Social media has given me the chance to speak to people I'd never be able to previously. I was able to have a dialogue with those who claimed to be Hezbollah supporters," said Fletcher.
He added that diplomats need to have narrative to their tweets and purpose behind their messages, recalling sending a strong message by taking part of a blood donation campaign when the Iranian consulate was bombed in Lebanon.
With all opportunities and risks that social media brings, the biggest risk for a diplomat is not being part of the online conversation, which can give room to extremists and terrorists.
Ghobash said that social media allowed him to display certain qualities hidden in the bureaucratic system, and reach more people in the UAE. "The point of diplomacy is to talk with those who disagree with you, and social media gave me that opportunity," he said, referring to his book that addressed moderate Islam and drew some criticisms.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence, he added, will never replace human interaction, which is why diplomacy will remain important.
Fletcher, however, said that the key lies in facilitating conversations between governments and high-tech companies. "We need diplomats who can stir such conversations in an age where people generally distrust their governments," said Fletcher.
Great diplomats, both speakers agreed, need to put themselves in other people's shoes and be kind, curious and brave.
Running until March 10 at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, the Emirates Literature Festival features over 180 authors from 47 countries, engaging in discussions of different topics.
'First UN woman chief will be from UAE'
"In 20 years, the first female UN secretary general will be an Emirati," Thomas Fletcher, former British ambassador to Lebanon, said during a panel discussion at the ongoing Emirates Litearture Festival.
The former diplomat added that women's participation is much needed in diplomacy, given their higher emotional intelligence, an attribute required in the field.
Currently, two thirds of students at the Emirates Diplomacy Academy are women, he noted.

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