In early October 2013, the GCC Information Ministers met in Bahrain to discuss the latest trends in the hypermedia environment. Within and outside the GCC, hundreds of media outlets combined with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Tumblr to illustrate a dynamic social media landscape with audio and visual components. Regulation over this expanse of information is important for security reasons. The intent is to prevent information chaos from reigning over the Arabian Peninsula, while throughout the region there are ongoing immense and historical changes.
The GCC Information Ministers meeting signaled the ongoing intent to coordinate and codify the hypermedia environment in terms of maintaining and preserving the Arabian Peninsula’s unique traditional culture. For his part, and on behalf of the GCC General-Secretary Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid al-Zayani, Assistant General-Secretary for Cultural and Media Affairs Khalid Bin Salem al-Ghassani pointed out in his speech “the successive developments in the world of communications, and means of investing them on one hand, and avoiding their negative effects on the national identity, on the other.” Ghassani pointed out “that the reality asserts the versatility of many media means to divert attention from the real problems facing people, and focus on issues which contribute in obliterating national identities, facts and fabricating reasons for division and conflict as well as preserving identity and citizenship.” Finally, Ghassani, speaking for Zayani, noted that the aspiration of the GCC is to have a pioneering role in reinforcing Gulf citizenship, society’s cohesion, security and stability.
In the wake of the meeting, Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa urged GCC countries to adopt a more aggressive media stance against misinformation, calling for a unified media strategy. He argued that: “We have every right as GCC states to promote a more pro-active media, instead of relying on a reactive one.” He stressed the importance for the media to be at the forefront in countering hostile campaigns seeking to distort truths and disseminate alien values and concepts which threaten the cohesion of Arabian Gulf societies. Prince Khalifa, in all truth, is stating publically what many other Gulf officials are maintaining - preserving order to create a narrative space for healthy discourse.
At the end of the day, the important question is: What are the best practices to allow a healthy discourse within the traditional ethos of Arabian Peninsula social norms?Dr. Theodore Karasik
The Bahrain meeting came on the heels of another important GCC media meeting. In mid-September, the fifth meeting of the GCC Security Media Committee occurred in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The aim of the meeting was to discuss uniting the efforts of all security media authorities in GCC countries and their role in the consolidation of security and stability in the individual countries. The participants reviewed a number of issues, including decisions of GCC Ministries of the Interior in the field of information security and how to achieve desired goals to enhance public safety.
The confluence of these meetings and the timing is indicative of the current state of regional affairs and their impact on the GCC and their populations. Events throughout MENA—for example Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, etc.—are all posing challenging and vexing questions about current events and future trends. The most important part of these issues is how information is used and whether the data is damaging to the reputations of GCC states and their leaderships. Clearly, there are individuals who use the hypermedia environment to raise critical issues of the day, which is important. But there are those individuals who are breaking taboos, hurling insults and diatribe against rulers and elites, systems and beliefs.
At the end of the day, the important question is: What are the best practices to allow a healthy discourse within the traditional ethos of Arabian Peninsula social norms? Clearly, respect and moral judgment are to be adhered to first and foremost. Part of the notions surrounding respect and moral judgment is social national security because the eruption of debate is capable of producing cleavages in society that damage economic growth and progress by promoting unneeded and counter-productive dissent. Social national security is an important concept that needs to be boosted in the context of the hypermedia environment in the GCC. Consequently, social national security is defined as preserving and maintaining the cultural attributes and traditionalism that makes GCC states unique in their own ways yet promotes their unity in terms of Khaleeji identity. Social national security is at the heart of preserving order and not allowing deviant thought to undermine GCC goals and aspirations. Enforcing and policing GCC hypermedia thus becomes a national priority.
Overall, hypermedia is an important, powerful, tool that, used correctly and in unison between GCC states, can promote harmony and filter out threats with counter campaigns buttressed with robust arguments supportive of the uniqueness of Arabian Peninsula states. Preservation of cultural norms and the local way of life is important to GCC cohesion, and to the notions put forward by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of a GCC Union, as the region around the Arabian Peninsula undergoes transformation.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.