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Friday, November 10, 2017
Mohammed Nosseir | Special to Arab News
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Dr. Naif Alotaibi | Special to Arab News
Soft power, Sophia the
robot and the rise of
As Saudi Arabia leads the way with the
Neom futuristic city project, the next
step forward could be an ambassador
to Silicon Valley.
enmark surprised everybody in May by appointing Casper
Klynge the first ambassador to Silicon Valley in the US. The
new envoy has described himself as a “technoplomat,” and
says he is aiming to “work to fix the digital diplomatic
efforts of Denmark.” He also plans to “lead full digital trans-
formation of the whole of the Foreign Ministry, and build relations with
technology companies in support of this effort.”
This move by Denmark gives us a glimpse into the nature of the com-
ing challenges of the digital age, and where the centers of the new
political power will reside; soft power will form the racing track between
countries and peoples competing for political, economic, cultural, and
“civilizational” leadership. This soft power that America enjoys, and of
which Silicon Valley is a part, has made the world keen to have a presence
in the place regarded as the world capital of technology, with the highest
average intelligence in the world. Here reside the headquarters of the
global giants that specialize in advanced technology, such as Google,
Apple, Facebook and Intel; from this valley were launched some of the
greatest projects and ideas that changed the face of this earth. The place
attracts thousands of talented people from all over the world; it is not
only a valley for technology but also for minds and ideas, with huge sup-
port for any initiative from the talented and the creative. It also hosts
universities looking to scoop up the geniuses of this world.
Denmark’s appointment of an ambassador to Silicon Valley will bolster
its ability to connect with the technology giants there. Foreign Minister
Anders Samuelsen said: “We are still in need of developing relations with
other countries, but we also need to set up close relations with some of
the major companies that impact us.”
This is an indication that we are heading for a new age that some call
“technoplomatic” — a combination of technology and diplomacy — in
which Silicon Valley will be the emperor that all ambitious countries
would like to be. It will be one of the new forms of diplomacy in the
future, to widen influence and to set up links to bolster these new centers
of influence and new decision-makers. As the American magazine
Foreign Policy put it: “This new post will open a new diplomatic line for
Denmark in the US that circumvents Washington … and strategy experts
are saying that European countries will follow its example.”
Naturally, the new ambassador will represent his country to the major
global companies, specifically social media platforms such as Facebook
and Twitter; they have billions of users and play a huge role in the lives
of people of the new millennium, as well as being some of the more effec-
tive communication tools in our fast-changing times. These new powers
will own leadership and progress, and will take on new forms unfamiliar
to us, variable and transforming in nature. We have come to hear, for
example, about “electronic armies” as much or even more than human
ones, and terms such as “electronic gangs” are frequently used in refer-
ence to an undeclared war, instead of the traditional ‘“psychological
warfare.” They aim to influence public opinion for political gain, or they
use “electronic flooding” or “electronic attacks” to target or change pri-
orities in a certain society. Thus the shape of traditional confrontation
and competition between countries is changing, and consequently the
balance and forms of these powers are changing as well. Soft power, with
its smart technology, is the new horse that countries are betting on to win
the race to the future.
Finally, we are undoubtedly living an unprecedented era of accel-
eration and progress, and the age of the robot and artificial intelli-
gence requires a special diplomatic intelligence to stay in sync with
the effects of technology on politics. Most analyses of politics say the
influence of companies in Silicon Valley has exceeded the influence
of banks and Wall Street companies, and the effect of pressure
groups and lobbies has therefore moved from New York and
Washington to Silicon Valley.
This is why the step taken by Denmark proves that strengthening rela-
tions with tech companies is a vital and important part of diplomacy in
the age of technology, and a strong resource for every ambitious country
striving to be effective and influential on the international political
scene. Saudi Arabia, with its recent developmental decisions and ambi-
tious projects, including the Neom project for a futuristic city, is one of
the countries that needs to have a strong diplomatic presence in Silicon
Valley. During the event that launched Neom, Saudi Arabia introduced
“Sophia,” an artificial-intelligence robot.
And just as Sophia attracted the world’s attention by being granted
citizenship, so a Saudi Embassy in Silicon Valley would be a step forward
in digital diplomacy, keeping pace with our 2030 Vision.
Dr. Naif Alotaibi is a Saudi writer, researcher and media adviser.
He has worked for several prominent Saudi media outlets.
Flatterers and yes-men are
doing Egypt a disservice
President El-Sisi has a genuine and ambitious
goal to modernize and stabilize the state, but
there are too many sycophants in key positions.
lose observation of the Egyptian media gives the impres-
sion that Egypt is a nation constituted mainly of hypocrites
and sycophants. That this segment of society often occupies
most mid and upper-level government positions, and that
hey dominate the Egyptian media, appears to endorse the argu-
ent that hypocrites and sycophants are the true natives of our
ation — whereas all the other “authentic citizens” are newcom-
rs. Are these personality traits a fundamental part of Egyptian
ulture, or is the state exerting a great deal of effort to spread and
mpower them?
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has a genuine and ambitious goal
to modernize and stabilize the Egyptian state. The question is,
ho is best able to realize this immense advancement in the service
f our country? Is it the hypocrites and sycophants currently in posi-
ions of power, or citizens with actual substance and genuine perspec-
ive? Are individuals who are so determined to support the state that
hey propound arguments they don’t believe in capable of modern-
zing our country?
For Egypt to progress, the government must first establish a solid,
cientific and innovative platform upon which it can eventually inau-
urate polices and expand investments. Inundating the platform with
ypocrites and sycophants is not only weakening our foundation; it
lso gives the false impression that we are progressing, when in real-
ty our manifesto is too fragile. Instead of moving the country for-
ard, it is undermining all the government’s efforts.
Egyptians are often surprised that we lose many rightful and
egitimate battles, but we never pause to consider that this failure
ay be due to our own internal deficiency — the fact that hypocrites
nd sycophants are in charge of operating our mind’s engine. This
egment of society attempts to exhilarate and inspire us by demon-
trating that the government engine is running louder than ever,
isregarding the fact that it is an obsolete machine; its loud clatter is
he result of its dysfunctionality, which tends to pollute our political
nvironment with noise and dust, while hardly producing any actual
Egyptian hypocrites and sycophants are adept at occupying key
positions and competing with one another to voice insincere, fabri-
cated narratives. As a result, challenges that may have been contain-
able at the outset expand and escalate, becoming more complicated
because of their hypocritical input. Additionally, this segment of
Egyptians has been discredited; the more they express their opinions,
the worse things become. Many of our regional political conflicts
could have been settled easily before their interference, which only
serves to fuel up issues — and eventually hurt our position.
Some argue that Egyptians are not good at teamwork and therefore
need a solo-leader supported by hypocrites and sycophants. Whether
we like it or not, these well-placed deceitful citizens eventually influ-
ence and shape Egyptian society; people come to believe that, as
“celebrities,” they are a model to be emulated. Not only are they
bluffing society by misguiding citizens on a number of critical issues,
but their media noise prevents us from devising better solutions to
our challenges.
Others claim that qualified executives are governing Egypt; they
are the ones who are truly in power, while the hypocrites and syco-
phants only play the role of reinforcers. Meanwhile, Egyptians with
genuine perspectives and good substance tend to shy away to avoid
harassment by these ignorant but influential citizens. Furthermore,
the phenomenon of unqualified citizens leading and dominating the
nation discourages many Egyptians from advancing their knowledge.
Egyptian hypocrites and sycophants often claim that they are car-
rying out their superiors’ instructions. Nevertheless, when these
minions dominate the entire working field, there can be no valuable
outcomes. Egypt certainly has highly qualified citizens who could
more usefully occupy many key state positions. If the Egyptian state
truly wants our nation to progress, it needs to enable them to govern
— and make sure to distance all phony flatterers.
Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong
advocate of political participation and economic freedom.
Twitter: @MohammedNosseir
The many strands of
Iran’s antagonism to
Saudi Arabia
Diplomacy will not change Tehran’s
behavior because it is deep-rooted
in sectarianism, envy and a drive for
regional domination.
rom the standpoint of international poli-
tics, by supplying the missile fired at Riyadh
last Saturday from Houthi-occupied terri-
tory in Yemen, Iran has committed an act
of war. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) and its elite branch the Quds Force have been
arming, financing and training militia groups across
the region, including the Houthis. One of Iran’s strat-
egies is to employ Hezbollah to train terrorist groups.
Hezbollah was instrumental in empowering
Al-Qaeda, as it has been with the Houthis.
In addition, the Iranian regime has been using a
variety of strategies to undermine Saudi Arabia.
Through social media and its Arabic language out-
lets, it has ratcheted up anti-Saudi sentiments to an
unprecedented level. Through weapons smuggling,
and its sponsorship of terrorism, Tehran is providing
the means for terrorist groups to target Saudi Arabia.
The major question to address is, why does the
Iranian regime hate and incite antagonism toward
Saudi Arabia and use proxies to attack the Kingdom?
Saudi Arabia did not oppose the Islamic Republic of
Iran when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to
power in 1979. The Kingdomhas tried through various
means to find diplomatic initiatives to improve rela-
tions with Iran. But from the day the Shiite theocracy
was established through force, the ruling mullahs
began using incendiary and heated rhetoric, as well as
inciting hatred and resistance against the Kingdom.
The first reason for Iran’s antagonism to Saudi
Arabia has religious motives. One of the key Iranian
revolutionary ideals of the mullahs has been export-
ing their Shiite ideology beyond Iran’s borders, par-
ticularly the expansion of their religious rule and the
idea of Velayat e Faqih, or governance of the Islamic
jurist, to the rest of the Muslim world.
Iran’s modus operandi is to expand its religious
rule through force. From their theological stand-
point, Iranian leaders justify the use of violence,
weapons and brute force in order to restore the
Muslim world under the rule of Iran’s Supreme
Leader, the so-called representative of Imam Mahdi.
As a result, from the outset, the Iranian regime
regarded any other independent state in the region,
particularly Saudi Arabia, as a threat and obstacle to
achieving its religious ambition. The fact that the
king of Saudi Arabia is the Custodian of the Two Holy
Mosques and the fact that millions of people every
year visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and
pay respect to Saudi Arabia have long enraged the
Iranian leaders.
The second issue has linked ethnic and sectarian
elements. One of the lenses through which Iranian
leaders view the region is through the Persian-Arab
and Sunni-Shiite divide. Iranian leaders view Persians
as superior to Arabs. Their sectarian agenda to widen
the gap between Sunni and Shiite communities is also
a strategy to divide and rule.
The third issue is linked to geopolitics. The Iranian
regime is in constantly attempting to further tip the
regional balance of power in its favor and expand the
IRGC’s stranglehold across the region. Since 1979,
Tehran has managed to create numerous proxies and
it has turned some state leaders, such as Bashar Assad,
into puppets, pawns or allies. Because the Iranian lead-
ers came to power with force and bloodshed, they fear
losing their hold on power. Therefore, from their per-
spective, the more allies and puppets they have, the
stronger their hold on power will be. Furthermore, if
any state resists becoming a puppet, instrument or
pawn, and is independent of the Iranian regime,
Tehran will attack it and threaten it through direct or
asymmetrical warfare.
Fourth, the Iranian regime benefits from instabil-
ity and chaos in the region. Instability creates the
perfect environment for Tehran to create new mili-
tias, sell its weapons and expand its influence.
Finally, one of the fundamentals of Iran’s foreign
policy is to label independent nations “enemies.”
This strategy is used to justify spending Iran’s wealth
on the military, diverting attention from real prob-
lems such as internal corruption and poverty, and in
order to suppress domestic opposition.
The Iranian regime’s antagonism and hatred toward
Saudi Arabia is deep-rooted because it has all these
strands. Tehran’s anti-Saudi stance will not change
through diplomatic initiatives, as this has been the core
pillar of its revolutionary ideals since 1979. If Iran’s
actions are not stopped, Tehran’s threats to the kingdom
will increase. This can have tremendous negative reper-
cussions, not only for the peace and safety of the Saudi
population,but also for the stability of the region.History
has shown how the Iranian regime can turn nations
such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq into protracted civil
warzones, in order to benefit and advance its agenda.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated
Iranian-American political scientist. He is a
leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy,
a businessman and president of the
International American Council.
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh | Special to Arab News
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