Europe Brief News spoke to London based British Journalist and Communication expert Sameh Habeeb about UK Foreign Policy in the MENA region.
The UK foreign policy in MENA region should be more pro active and not just to be in line of American foreign policy. Brexit is now the chance for UK to show effectiveness in solving major crisis and conflicts.
“Great Britain is fifth-largest economy in the world and have the one of the most globalised economies which is attractive to many conglomerate business and cooperation. The UK has many other selling points but its bran is in need for overhaul to fix its traditional foreign policy. Such unique positions must be accompanied with active diplomacy could help the UK gain more grounds in MENA.” said Habeeb
According Habeeb, the UK’s foreign policy in the region is not met with friendliness by Arab masses. For many Arab; UK is seen as a colonial power though it’s imperial rein has ended long ago.
He added, “UK involvement in Iraq Wars in 1991 and 2003 then its role in the Arab spring (such as Libya and Syria) as a NATO member and prior that its role in creating the state of Israel (via Balfour Declaration) are all seen as aggressive foreign policy in that region. The UK is also seen as a key partner for tyrant regimes who are regularly customers for arms industry in the UK”
As such, UK must have radical changes on its foreign policy approach in dealing with Arab masses. A new public diplomacy is I think is the answer; it is needed to replace traditional approach. The UK must be seen as a friend to the nations not to regimes or political movements. UK public diplomacy must be pro active and address directly the mindset of the average Arab person.
Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) defined public diplomacy: “Public diplomacy is about projecting a coherent and influential voice to all those who have influence within a society—not just within its government.”
Sameh Habeeb added that public diplomacy was not employed well by the Uk over the past decades and relied solely on its media such as (BBC) as a channel with the Arab world. The British Council have also played a role in this but I can describe it as limited whereby it’s target group is “very small. The UK can do more in terms of public diplomacy using its assets in arts, media, education, and innovation.”
If you look at the key elements of the “public diplomacy” term you would clearly notice key elements such as history, sociology, psychology and culture are interrelated. As such, an interpretation of those elements could clearly indicate that UK is seen negatively simply because of its historical involvement of Middle East wars and crisis from the early 1900 until now. The average Arab person don’t perfevive UK positively. Therefore a grassroots strategy of public diplomacy could play major role in normalising the image and brand of the UK in MENA region. »Public diplomacy is a public face of a traditional diplomacy.« (Ross, 2002 in Leonard, 2002: 1).” said Sameh Habeeb
Diplomacy in its multilayered meaning represents a formulation and implementation of foreign politics, technique of foreign politics, international negotiations and professional activity, which is being performed by the diplomats (Benk, 1997: 255-262; Nicolson, 1988/1939: 3-5).
Public diplomacy is the opposite of secret diplomacy and some experts often describe it as “essentially propaganda” and public lobbying
According to Britannica Encyclopaedia public diplomacy, also called people’s diplomacy, any of various government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign publics. Public diplomacy includes all official efforts to convince targeted sectors of foreign opinion to support or tolerate a government’-s strategic objectives.
“A key element of public diplomacy is peace building and conflict resolution. The UK has long failed in being pro active for example in solving Arab-Israeli conflict and often choose to side with Israeli occupation. The UK foreign policy has always been a hostage for the American one not only on Palestine but all Middle East issues and even international as the case for Russia and China these days.” added Habeeb
Habeeb argued with the UK being out of the EU the country has its moment. Number 10 must employ such independence to change how it operates in the Middle East. UK must have bold positions on Middle East crisis and not necessarily follow what the US or European block do. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Libya are just examples where UK could excel very well.
“Besides, educational, cultural, social, arts and media projects must be used as key tools for this public diplomacy approach.” said Habeeb