Arabs have ‘long way to go’ in lobbying West

Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News, opens Al Arabiya Global News Discussion in Dubai on Nov. 30, 2013. (Al Arabiya)

The Arab world has a “long way to go” in lobbying Western governments, partly because the region lacks cohesion in getting its message across, an Al Arabiya News panel heard today.

The first “Al Arabiya News Global Discussion,” held in Dubai, set out to explore the theme “bridging the communication gap between East and West.”

Four panelists examined how the Arab world has fallen behind in lobbying Western governments, notably the U.S.

“One of the things holding the Arab voice back is the lack of an Arab public sphere, and a lack of voices who are willing to stand up and be counted,” said Adrian Monck, managing director and head of communications and media at the World Economic Forum.

Doing this is about more than throwing money at lobby groups, Monck said.

“That money doesn’t buy the argument with electorates, it doesn’t buy the argument with people on the street,” he told the panel. “What’s missing is people willing to stand up and engage.”

Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Bureau Chief in Washington, DC., told the forum that there had been only “rudimentary efforts” among Arab representatives in lobbying local lawmakers and the U.S. government.

“We Arabs have a long way to go,” he said.

Political knowhow

Despite spending money on lobbyists, some Arab governments lack the political knowhow of groups such as the National Rifle Association in the U.S., Melhem added

“To be effective you have to have a well-defined constituency; that constituency should believe in one single issue,” he said.

“The Arabs lack most of that,” he added. “The Arabs in America brought with them all the problems of the Middle East... If the Arabs are not effective in their own societies, they’re not going to be effective overseas. So for the Arabs to be effective they have to agree on a set of priorities.”

Dr. Adel al-Toraifi, Editor-in-Chief of the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too often the focus in Arab relations with the West. “This issue is only one of the issues that needs to be raised,” he said, pointing to Syria and Yemen as two topics that deserve more attention.

Al-Toraifi did however point to Dubai’s successful bid to host the Expo 2020 exhibition as a good example of successful lobbying.

Chris Doyle, the director of The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), also spoke on the panel.

He said that there is now better awareness of Arab issues in the UK compared with a few decades ago – but that there are still many “myths and misconceptions” about the region.

A perception among Arab communities is that the pro-Israeli lobby is too strong to fight, Doyle added.

“One of the things that sometimes holds Arab communities back from lobbying is actually the belief in some of the conspiracy theories that somehow the Israel lobby is all-powerful, never makes any mistakes, and you can’t challenge it… This is not true,” he said.

Reactions to panel

Majid Rafizadeh, president of International American Council, said that the panels at the forum “provided thought-provoking topics.”

Regarding lobbying, Rafizadeh said that the issue is broader than just how the Arab world looks to lobby in political spheres. “Lobbying should not be limited to politics, we should also look at economy,” Rafizadeh told Al Arabiya News.

Eyad Abu Shakra, managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, and whose columns are also published by Al Arabiya News, said that he had faced issues when trying to raise awareness of Arab issues within British politics.

“I was a member of one of the major political parties in Britain and we tried to establish an Arab forum within that party, eventually we were hitting a wall,” Abu Shakra told Al Arabiya News.

“When the Iraq war was being prepared, we contacted our party and we received a lecture: the party was not really interested in the discussion, it was a one-way traffic and that’s why I suspended my membership of the party.”

Muddassar Ahmed, head of London-based consultancy firm Unitas Communications, said there are two separate areas in which Arab lobbying is important.

“One is the issue of how Arabs living in the West can lobby their government, and the second issue is how Arabs states should lobby the West,” Ahmed told Al Arabiya News after the debate.

“I think those are two separate issues and I think we need to look at each one carefully and concisely. I think for each one there will be separate strategies but they also can be quite mutually cooperative. When strategists in this region think about how to lobby the West, they should definitely think about the issues Arabs in the West are facing and how to help them in their locality and make things easier from them.”

Author and columnist Abdel Latif al-Menawy agreed that both the Arab world and the West had more work to do in boosting understanding of the Middle East.

“Both sides are not making enough efforts to make the West understand the Middle East better,” he told Al Arabiya News after the debate.

“Arab governments don’t believe they have to make any efforts to communicate with others,” al-Menawy added. “It is important to have PR persons, to invite people to conferences… in order to communicate more easily with the West.”

Likewise, people in the West “are not doing what it takes” to understand the Arab world, al-Menawy said. “The West can also be blamed for its constant sentiment of superiority,” he said.

Global Discussion

A second panel at the “Al Arabiya News Global Discussion” addressed the Western media’s coverage and understanding of the Arab world.

Panelists included Professor George Brock, Head of Journalism at City University in London; Khaled al-Maeena, Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi Gazette newspaper; Talal al-Haj, the New York/U.N. Bureau Chief for the Al Arabiya News Channel; and Charles Glass, a broadcaster, journalist and writer with a vast experience reporting on the Middle East.

The forum also hosted a special session entitled “What Does it Mean to be a Regional Spokesperson?”, with Joshua Baker, the U.S. Department of State’s regional Arabic-language spokesperson, and Rosemary Davis, regional spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

All debates were recorded and made available online at http://alarabiya.net/english

Marking the relaunch

The event was held to mark the relaunch of the Al Arabiya News website, including a new state-of-the-art subtitling service that allows English-speaking audiences to follow Arabic news bulletins and programs broadcast by its parent TV channel.

The new service, part of this website’s View More video section, will broadcast regular news bulletins and programs first aired in Arabic by the Al Arabiya News Channel, the region’s leading news station.

HRH Princess Rym Ali of Jordan, Founder of Jordan Media Institute, gave the keynote address at a dinner to mark the launch of the new service.

In her speech, Princess Rym called on Arabs to fight discrimination, saying it is not the West’s role to correct “negative stereotypes” about the Middle East region.


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The Al Arabiya News Global Discussion takes place in Dubai on Nov. 30, 2013. Follow the coverage at http://english.alarabiya.net/ and find out more about the event here.

 

Al Arabiya News Global Discussion

 

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