Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Art Dubai

This week, the city welcomes Art Dubai, the largest contemporary art festival in the region.

Art Dubai 2009 from Art Dubai on Vimeo.

To learn more about how this art festival will help spur culture in Dubai, a city of immigrants, we visited an art gallery.  We had a very interesting talk with the owner of the gallery, as well as the government official in charge of culture. The art scene in Dubai is small, largely because funding isn't available for full time artists. We had a very interesting talk about art in Dubai and how it could act as a public diplomacy tool for Dubai itself. The representative from the Ministry of Culture explained that until Dubai knows its own culture, it will be difficult for it to export it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lessons from Emirate Royalty

Wednesday brought us to one of our most exciting interviews. We were in the presence of royalty. We had the great fortune to meet with her Excellency, Reem Al Hashemy in Emirates Towers. A surprisingly young woman, Al-Hashemy was sworn in as a Minister of State in the Cabinet of the UAE. It is common for young people to have important positions in the UAE if they are smart and talented.  Al Hashemy was clearly both. In fact, the population of the UAE is fairly young in general. 
Educated at Harvard, her Excellency spoke eloquently, and with only a slight accent, from underneath her black hijab (traditional dress for Emirate women). Many Emirates are US educated, and many have a good opinion of the US. Unfortunately, more so than the American public's opinion of the UAE. The UAE's regional neighbors criticize the country for being too westernized and close to the US.

According to Ms. Al Hashemy, the UAE was created by Sheik Zeyad in 1971. She explained that Emirates are a tribal culture and that each of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Some of the Emirates are more modern, like Dubai, which is very western and business minded.  The capital, Abu Dhabi, has the biggest population of Emirates, and Sharjah is much more religious. (To find out more about the UAE see here)
Financial Crisis
Like most of the world, the financial crisis hit Dubai. Particularly, its banking and real estate sectors. International media speculated disaster for Dubai, claiming it was done. The Government failed to respond to what Ms. Al Hashemy called exaggerated accusations. 
Combating Terrorism
As the US Consul General had told us a few days earlier, the UAE works closely with the US to combat terrorism. Dubai has the largest US Navel monitoring fleet and 100% of shipments that leave Dubai are checked by US Costumes agents. Mrs. Al Hashemy spoke of how little the global public, particularly Americans, new of this. Surprisingly, in 2006, the UAE was the only Middle Eastern country to deploy Special Forces in Iraq. Her Excellency spoke of the difficulties of trying to get Americans to realize the UAE matters. She has spent much of her career lobbying in the US for better opinions toward their country. Many public diplomacy efforts have been implemented to this aim. At one point, a group of Rabbi's from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA visited the UAE.
Green Initiatives
Although it is not an important issue to the Emirate public, the Sheik of Dubai has introduced an effort towards green technology for his city. This includes the construction of the world's first completely green city. The UAE also won the bid for the headquarters of IRENA. This will be the first multinational organization in the global south.
(I highly suggest this 60 minutes piece on Dubai for more information.) 

Watch CBS News Videos Online
In conclusion, her Excellency explained that, like it or not, the Middle East will continue to be very important. She explained that the Sheiks have tried to build a very different Middle Eastern country. One with an open society, both culturally and religiously; One that empowers women in work and education. The Sheiks foundation, Dubai Cares, works on education issues throughout the world. But she added the caveat that it isn't just important to make the UAE exceptional.
"You can never have a great house if it is a bad neighborhood. The UAE is a good house."
Therefore, she says, the UAE has a direct interest in developing the region as a whole. I asked her if she felt that the UAE could act as a moderator between Middle Eastern countries and the ME and the US. She agreed they most definitely are already. But she said most efforts in this regard are behind the scenes and that she couldn't elaborate. She added that the UAE had to be strategic about their methods of improving the region. 
"Arab culture is super sensitive about others telling us what to do." (A point the US will learn the hard way.) "Instead, the UAE says, 'Here is what we've done, look at how successful it has been. Maybe you'd be interested in trying it."
In no way does the UAE think it is perfect. Mrs. Al Hashemy admits:

"Are we democratic? Hell no! And there is a long way to go to be more democratic. But we are aware of this and working to address it."
 But she insists that they are a model for the region. 

"Dubai is seen as very welcoming and successful on the 'Arab street.'"
From my visit here, I can see why. Myself and many of my colleagues on the trip mentioned we could see ourselves moving here. We felt very comfortable in this country. Maybe I'll start editing my resume. ;)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Desert Safari

The day started with lectures from some AUD professors and local media. The topic focused on understanding and influencing Arab publics. A television personality, Majid Mohsen and his colleague, Hafidh Aman. The two set up a workshop for us about managing a public diplomacy speech to the Arab world -- much like Obama's Cairo speech. It was an interesting exercise, particularly having two influential Arabs who were very frank with us about what the Arab public needs and wants to hear.

Later that day we met up with a group of AUD students. About 12 of these students will be coming to visit us in California the first week in April, as the second phase of this exchange program. The students had planned a desert safari for us. We piled into a caravan of jeeps and headed towards the desert. I have been to the desert before, in Egypt, but it was still surreal that just outside this booming city -- what I compare to the Las Vegas, or even LA, of the Middle East -- was a vast and desolate desert. The red sand dunes were absolutely gorgeous as camels trekked across them. It was like a film of an exotic, far- away place. THIS is what you expect to see in the Middle East. Not a Coco’s and Chilies, and yes, Dubai is full of American chain restaurants and shops. I seriously don’t feel like I’ve left LA.
Once we arrived at an even more desolate patch of sprawling desert, it was time for the real fun to begin. The jeeps let some of the air out of the tires so that they wouldn't pop a tire. We strapped ourselves into the jeep and our driver hit the gas, heading straight for the steepest sand dunes he could see. Sand dune riding is very popular here and can be done in dune buggies, jeeps, dirt bikes, etc. Each time we hit the top of a 20ft dune I was thrown up off my seat. I was very grateful for seatbelts at this point. It was an intense and exhilarating ride. The AUD students in my jeep turned up Egyptian dance music and were clapping their hands and singing between screams of excitement as we hit dune after dune. It was probably the most fun I'd ever had.

After about 20 minutes we reached an outpost desert camp that had been set up for us. We met other jeeps of mostly tourists and headed to the camp which had tea and dates, henna tattooing, a bar, a sheesha "lounge," camel riding, and sand boarding. It was a very cool set-up, everything a tourist would think of the Middle East. Sand boarding was really fun. Basically you get on a snow board and "ski" down a 20 foot sand dune. Dinner was served after sunset. It was a Middle Easter feast.. and then Chinese and Italian food? Then we took to the rugs and pillows in the sand and watched a very talented, but rather old, belly dancer. I don't hate though, I hope I can move like that when I'm 50! ;)

Overall, it was a lot of fun. And the AUD students we met were interesting as well. A much needed break after an intense few days of meetings.

Day 3: Al Arabiya

After our visit to the National newspaper headquarters in Abu Dhabi, we stopped at the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, which is, I was told, the second largest mosque in the world. The first is in Pakistan.

The Grand Mosque "is probably the most imposing religious and national landmark in Abu Dhabi to date. It is also arguably one of the most important architectural treasures of contemporary UAE society."
The mosque was awe-inspiring to say the least and easily the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Afterward, we skipped back to Dubai for a visit to the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). This huge broadcasting group consists of many television stations, one of its most well known being Al Arabiya. We got a very thorough tour of the station and spoke with the Executive Editor, Dr. Nabil Khatib about Middle East media. One of the highlights, Dr. Khatib pointed out how public relations and public policy does very well in the US and yet we fail miserably in Foreign Policy. The US public is very watchful and critical of US domestic policies but it doesn't devote the same scrutiny to their country's foreign polices. Which I completely agree is true. I would say we fail miserably in public diplomacy as well, though maybe this falls under the rubric of foreign policy. Although, considering the health care drama, many would argue public policy isn't at its best at the moment either.

Day 3: The National

Today’s meetings focused on media in the UAE. All media is government owned, funded and censored. Although, it seems that censorship isn’t at the same level as, say, Iran or China. We visited the National newspaper office in Abu Dhabi, which is the UAE capital city. Only two years old, The National is an English language newspaper that reports international news. It is delivered in many ME countries including Jordan, Cairo and Lebanon and read widely in the US. We spoke with Hassan Fattah, the paper’s former Editor in Chief. Hassan admitted that the paper receives government push back on stories but insisted that the government does not expect a paper that wholly praises the Sheik with their pictures gracing every page. This is what most of the local papers look like, and the government is well aware that the public does not see these publications as credible. Instead, the Sheiks welcomed the National and funded its launch. The paper hopes to wean itself from this funding as soon as possible, although Hassan says that it doesn’t come with strings. He explains that the paper has to be strategic about telling a story that may be seen as critical by the government. He describes how they build a story piece by piece rather than printing one wholly critical piece. One of the most interesting things Hassan spoke about was the fact that although the paper covers local news, its audience is almost more interested in international news. A phenomenon that is opposite that of the US public, which tends to prefer national news. Another difference between the US newspaper market and the UAE:
“Newspapers are not dead here,” says Hassan. He says the media is quite behind the US in development and therefore printed newspaper is alive and well in the region, including ad revenue. “Business is thriving,” with subscriptions doubling every year.
One of the papers largest focuses, as you might imagine, is business. We spoke with one of the paper’s business writers who further explained how the paper balances accurate reporting without being outright critical with the government policies.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


DAY 2:

Today, we started with a trip to the American University in Dubai- our hosts on this trip. We met with the AUD President, Dr. Lance de Masi, who talked about what makes the university American. According to Dr. de Masi, the school has an American approach to education, which is apparently unique. Public universities in Dubai are government run and free. AUD is one of several private universities. With 3,000 students, it is a tiny school in comparison to USC. The students come from all different countries and backgrounds, which is obvious by the various dress- burqas to sundresses. I guess I really could've packed anything. Many of the international students are sent to school in Dubai, while their parents work elsewhere. AUD only offers undergraduate programs for now, with the exception of their MBA program. The school is pretty westernized, as is the rest of Dubai, as I later discovered. I find myself almost disappointed that it doesn't feel more Middle Eastern- whatever that means. Though I have been told that the other Emirates are less Western.

Next, we visited the American Consul General of Dubai. As it happened, the Public Affairs officer that escorted us was a good friend of my mentor at the State Department this summer- small world indeed. The Consul General spoke of the close relationship the United Arab Emirates has with the U.S. -- a relationship that is only getting stronger under the Obama administration. Large numbers of Emirates study in the US, which is great for public diplomacy. The two countries cooperate in both oil interests and national security. After all, US companies, primarily those in Texas, built Dubai’s oil infrastructure. There are 750-900 US companies in Dubai, many being the top fortune five companies. In terms of corporate diplomacy -- basically the role of corporations in foreign policy -- these companies seem aware of their brand image as a US brand in a Middle Eastern country.

The UAE, with its main political hub in Abu Dhabi, is becoming increasingly important in international relations. However, because it is so small – it only has 6 million people in all 7 Emirates, (much less than the city of LA and Saudi Arabia, which has 24 million) – the UAE has to be careful about its alliances. Iran, in particular, is its greatest threat. In some instances it is good for the country to be seen as close to the US. From what I have learned so far, it seems the UAE is a very unique Middle Eastern country. It is both Islamic and not democratic – being run by a network of royal families – but is very modern, open and friendly with the US. I can’t wait to see more…

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Welcome to Dubai

So after a long and disorienting 15 hour flight through several times zones, we arrived in beautiful Dubai. Dubai looks strangely similar to LA so far. I really don't feel I am in a Middle Eastern country at all. Maybe tomorrow as we venture out. The flight was an adventure in itself, as we flew the famed Emirates Airlines, arguably the most luxurious of airlines. I have to say, flying coach was only slightly better than, say, Jet Blue.. next time I hope to splurge an extra couple thousand for the business class pods. (see right) Juggling the time change is going to prove difficult -- we ate breakfast on the plane and then landed shortly after in Dubai, where it was 7pm -- nothing a little exhaustion and a glass of wine can't cure. I'm off to test the method now, as it is nearly 2 am already. Also, Google and Facebook have somehow noticed I am in Dubai and switched the default language to Arabic on me and I am having trouble figuring out how to change it back.. a very neat feature unless Google is mistaken and you do not speak Arabic despite your location. THIS is where those two years of Persian language at UCI come in handy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What not to wear.. The Middle East edition

So I leave in 3 days for a very exciting trip to Dubai and Beirut. This has proved more than challenging. First of all, I always over pack for trips and forget something important like pants. To add to my dilemma, my travels take me to largely Islamic countries in the very warm desert. Luckily, my summer in DC prepared me with a business wardrobe that will make due in hot climates. But I am receiving mixed messages about how conservative my dress should be. One article offered this advice:

Golden Rule: Ladies, if you show too much skin, everyone will think you're a prostitute.

Certainly not wanting to be arrested for solicitation, I promptly took my tank tops and skirts out of my suitcase. I am told by many that Dubai is a very modern city and that the dress code is very relaxed. But then I read this article on tourists who were cited for public indecency in the mall. The best part of the article is the Russian business women who said she doesn't own anything but mini-skirts and tank tops.. must be a long Russian winter for her and her mini.

Needless to say I am rather perplexed.. maybe I should just pack my
burqa and my toothbrush.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Microloans for American Students

As I look towards what seems to be the end of my academic life- I graduate in three months- I can't help but panic about the mass of school loans that I have acquired. Its hard to get a handle on the idea that getting an education is so costly. I have always believed that education is valuable, but I can't help but wonder if my choice to get a MA degree will be worth the debt that I will probable face the majority of my adult life? I am not the only student who struggles with this dilemma, feelings that materialized March 4th in the form of nation-wide protests. I heard about an interesting, and definitely creative, idea about micro-lending for education. It's similar to the microcredit- extension of very small loans to those in poverty to spur entrepreneurship. This originated with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Here is an example of this. This new idea proposes that American donors can provide school loans to American students. I know that I don't count as being in poverty, but I, like many other US students, could really use help paying for college.

Photo by Shadee Malaklou

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Public Diplomacy Interactive

PD Interactive is a virtual space, launched by the Public Diplomacy Corps (PD Corps), where people can connect and share ideas about public diplomacy.

We hope you'll use this this network as a resource to connect with counterparts around the world and tackle important issues. The best way to do this is by joining groups relevant to your interests, such as the Cultural Diplomacy group, or the group on Iran. If you don't see a group that fits your interests, we encourage you to create one!

We can't wait to hear about your PD projects and experiences, so please post pictures from your travels, articles, videos, blogs and events relevant to your PD projects and interests. Pose any questions or challenges you may have, or just share an interesting story.

Ultimately, this is your network, so have fun with it. And don't forget to invite your friends to join in the collaboration. Also, visit our Facebook group and even our LinkedIn group, we want to help you connect with the world in every way possible. We would love to hear your feedback about the site, so please don't hesitate to "friend" the PD Corps Board and stay in touch!

Thanks and we look forward to seeing what you are up to!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Power of Women

Today I attended Women's Reception, hosted by International Visitors Council and National Association of Women in Business. The event brought a delegation of 18 women entrepreneurs from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Macedonia, Namibia, Nigeria and Palestine. It was a very interesting event in which we discussed the many issues facing women in business around the world. The best part, for me, was sitting in a room at the historic Ebell, an educational and philanthropic organization founded by women in 1894, with women of all ages from all parts of the globe discussing our role in society. I thought back to an article I had read earlier that day that discussed the role of women in development in Afghanistan.

“It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if half its population is left behind. We know from an accumulating body of studies and research from governments, multilateral organizations, corporations and think tanks that investing in women is the single most effective development strategy that we have for poverty alleviation, economic growth and a country’s general prosperity."

This is a common theme in the study of gender and development, but the "Girl Effect" is being discussed in a more broad context, like this article about supporting women as a national security issue. seems so obvious to me, how can a country develop fully if one half of the population is unable to participate. I was so thrilled to see Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof amplify this point in his book “Half the Sky.” This Thursday, March 4th, International Woman's Day, theaters around the world will be showing a documentary version of the book.

"International Women’s Day and be inspired to help women and girls everywhere turn oppression into opportunity. Featuring musical performances, celebrity commentary and the world premiere of “Woineshet,” a short film by Academy Award® winner Marisa Tomei and Lisa Leone. Also with appearances from, India.Arie, Maria Bello, Diane Birch, Michael Franti, Dr. Helene Gayle, Angelique Kidjo, Nicholas Kristof, Marisa Tomei, Sarah, Duchess of York and others."

Click here for the events page for details and to find a theater near you participating in this amazing ONE NIGHT ONLY event.

Public Diplomacy in the News

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy website has a great feature for those interested in PD. Public Diplomacy in the News (PDiN) aggregates all the relevant PD articles. The Center now has a new Monthly publication called PDiN Monthly. If you don't have time to read the PDiN roundup everyday, this is a great way to stay in the loop.. and yours truly made a short contribution, as well.

From the Center on Public Diplomacy:

"As part of its PDiN news aggregation service, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy collects and tags countless articles and op-eds on nation branding each week and we are pleased to present a closer look at some of these headlines in the latest issue of PDiN Monthly.

In this issue:
In Nation Branding: Not Just a Logo, Jian 'Jay' Wang offers a concise overview of the ever-evolving field of nation branding with a particular emphasis on some of the breaking stories this month.

In Lost in Explanation, Naomi Leight and Paul Rockower delve into Israel's newly launched program of "brand ambassadors," presenting all sides of the argument for this controversial move by Israel's government.

Katharine Keith reviews relevant articles about the United States' ostensible negligence of its brand management in Welcome to the USA.

At least two dozen February stories tracked in our Science Diplomacy Monitor are summarized in Developments in Science Diplomacy.

PD in Print presents the latest blogs and publications from CPD and other sources and Upcoming PD Events of Interest brings together event information from a range of international venues.

To read the February issue, click here.
For previous issues of PDiN Monthly, click here."

China and Iran

As the US and Europe push for further sanctions on Iran, China has declined to participate. They say diplomatic measures have not been exhausted, a point I do agree with, though I question China's motives behind this move. China is Iran's biggest trading partner and Iran is China's 3rd largest oil supplier.

This NPR report brings interesting insight on the subject.