Rabat - Karima Rhanem, president of the Moroccan Association for Development and Parallel Diplomacy, which organized last week the first meeting on public diplomacy in Rabat, told Morocco World News that the government should capitalize on the expertise of Moroccans living abroad, stop all kinds of seasonal and folkloric diplomacy, and work on an integrated and sustained public diplomacy strategy. She added that there should be a real mapping exercise to identify all key actors in public diplomacy from home and abroad; and evaluate their experiences in the ground, see what worked, what is not, identify causes of failures and propose alternatives to activate their role with a new vision in line with key strategies.
Rabat – Karima Rhanem, president of the Moroccan Association for Development and Parallel Diplomacy, which organized last week the first meeting on public diplomacy in Rabat, told Morocco World News that the government should capitalize on the expertise of Moroccans living abroad, stop all kinds of seasonal and folkloric diplomacy, and work on an integrated and sustained public diplomacy strategy. She added that there should be a real mapping exercise to identify all key actors in public diplomacy from home and abroad; and evaluate their experiences in the ground, see what worked, what is not, identify causes of failures and propose alternatives to activate their role with a new vision in line with key strategies.
MWN: You are now the head of one of the most active organization in public diplomacy, give us an idea on how it occurred to you the idea of launching such an ambitious project?
Karima Rhanem (KR): It is true that I was behind the idea of launching this project, but I can’t claim taking solely the credit for it. There are also several great members of the association who are contributing to the success of this initiative. This has all started in 2011 after the March 9 King’s speech in which he launched landmark reforms in response to the street protests. The first thing that came to my mind “as Moroccan citizens, we can’t be anymore spectators of change, we got expertise and knowledge, networking, strategic vision, linguistic and communications capabilities; we need to use those skills at the service of the country”. Our first assembly meeting was on April 2, 2011 and the second one on Feb 25, 2012 which led to the creation of the association. And since the founding members of the association work in the field of development and diplomacy, we thought about what niche areas we may work in to bring an added value to the civil society community. The main goals we have identified are the promotion of national causes and values through a public diplomacy that strengthens friendship ties, reinforces the values of tolerance, peace, exchange and intercultural dialogue among peoples of the world, thereby strengthening and expanding development partnerships at the national and international levels.
MWN: The name of the NGO reflects two key objectives: development and parallel diplomacy. Could you explain to us the choice?
KR: That’s a very good question. Why development and diplomacy matter? Despite Morocco’s reforms, its human development index is still lagging behind. More efforts need to be done to implement the 2011 constitution, to reform the educational system, to provide job opportunities to the thousands of unemployed during a critical time of economic and financial crisis, to maintain the percentage of the GDP growth, to fight against corruption, reform the judicial system, improve the administration’s transparency, governance and efficiency in delivering key services to citizens; develop civil society and empower youth to actively participate in decision making processes and in developing and evaluating public policies, etc.
Morocco’s advanced regionalization initiative is also a major project that needs to be managed with forethought and the utmost care so as to introduce gradual, in-depth change in the organization of state institutions and in the relationship between central government and local authorities. To raise to these challenges, HM King Mohammed VI in his recent Throne Day Speech called for the emergence of new elites, and the promotion of broad-based participation of women and young people. He also called for opening up prospects for competent citizens – men and women alike – who show a keen sense of responsibility and integrity. He also urged the government to reform the civil service so as to meet the requirements of this new vision for territorial governance and to seek new ways of accessing finance, increasing economic growth and generating investment. So there are serious challenges ahead that need to be addressed, but this doesn’t mean that our association will be working on all of those areas. We will be meeting soon to strategize about what we can do according to our manageable interest.
As to Public diplomacy, we thought we may bring a comparable advantage for a number of reasons. First there is a lack of scientific research and studies related to Moroccan Public Diplomacy. Second, the practice of public diplomacy is not structured and there are many actors that are not necessarily having a common vision or coordinating with one another about the key strategic priorities of Moroccan diplomacy. Third, there is an issue of governance and transparency that needs to be addressed while dealing with the different actors of public diplomacy. Fourth, we need a new proactive diplomacy giving a halt to any kind of seasonal and folkloric diplomacy.
MWN: Can you foresee any link between diplomacy and development?
KR: Absolutely, public diplomacy has different goals and means; you have cultural, scientific, academic, nongovernmental, economic and political diplomacy practiced by civil society, political parties, business leaders, academia, media and think tanks, as well as parallel diplomacy that is practiced mainly by the parliament.
Till now there is still confusion as to the common agreed upon terminology of public diplomacy as it is a foreign concept. All of the above mentioned types of diplomacy can directly influence development. For example you can use cultural diplomacy to bring together key stakeholders who have different corporate culture to sit down and identify a common vision for development in a particular country with the aim of designing and implementing sustainable programs that could be owned by local citizens.
You can use economic diplomacy to boost bilateral trade and investment between businesspersons from different countries. Another example is using effective communications to brand Morocco via cultural diplomacy (music, arts, showbiz, film industry), hence, you may attract and increase tourism and investment to your country. The great example I can give in this regard is the soft power of Turkish soap operas which contributed to the expansion of the Turkish culture and language around the world, particularly in the Middle East & North Africa. If you looked at the percentage of the number of Arab tourists who visited Turkey after the famous movie “Mohannad and Nour’, you notice a great increase. You may also use public diplomacy to increase global partnerships around certain issues.
MWN: How do you see the role of civil society and Moroccans living abroad in promoting and defending Morocco’s strategic choices and interests?
KR: There is no doubt that Moroccan civil society has a key role to play in promoting and defending Morocco’s national interests abroad. With the new provisions of the 2011 constitution, which gave civil society the right to participate in the development and evaluation of public policies, the latter is called upon to actively participate in state consultations with the aim of developing a new vision and strategy of Morocco’s public Diplomacy.
Yet, we always ask the question who is eligible to do so, since Morocco’s diplomacy may be considered “everyone’s affairs”. The new directorate of Public Diplomacy and Non State Actors, which was created a few months ago within the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs structure, needs to do a mapping exercise of all the key actors in public diplomacy. It also needs to evaluate their experiences in the ground, see what worked, what is not working, identify causes of failures and propose alternatives to activate their role with a new vision in line with key strategies. This should also be accompanied by training on key concepts of the practice of public diplomacy …etc.
Also there are a couple of few NGOs who have a consultative status with the United Nations, who participate mainly in defending human rights at the Human rights council. This modest number needs to increase. Also given the advanced status of Morocco with the European Union, we need to increase the number of Moroccan NGOs to be member of the Organisations Internationales non Gouvernemntales (OING) , which groups different European and Mediterranean CSO as a consultative body to the Council of Europe.
As to Moroccans living abroad, I think their role is really key, because they are the ones who know better the culture of the host countries, their languages, their key actors, opinion leaders and influencers in decision making. They have all the tools and necessary skills to do so. We have a number of Moroccans who are in good positions (ministers, world business leaders, Hollywood actors…etc), we have Moroccan Sahraoui, Arab, Amazigh, and Jewish Diaspora groups who can contribute to branding Morocco outside and defending its causes and territorial integrity. But we need to open a new dialogue with them and enable them to contribute to their country’s development through a sustainable integrated strategy instead of dealing with them on a seasonal basis during national days, and summer time. Unfortunately, we see more often only the bad stories through media about Moroccans abroad (either smuggling, terrorism, trouble making, illegal migration). There are no real efforts in communicating the success stories of the Moroccan business leader, the renowned journalists, the inventors, the doctors, the professors, etc.
MWN: You mentioned two important issues media and capacity building, what role do they play in public diplomacy?
KR: As I questioned earlier, who is eligible to speak for Morocco outside; there should be certain criteria of the potential actors of public diplomacy. Therefore, training is very key. I can’t imagine someone representing Morocco who doesn’t even know its history, culture, heritage, and key issues and how to communicate about them. And as Mr. Mustapha Khalfi, Minister of Communication and Government Spokesperson, said at the opening of our meeting: “enough of folkloric diplomacy”. Our association has announced during the meeting the launch of a new initiative, which is the academy of public diplomacy. The latter aims at developing the capacity building of key actors in public diplomacy, promoting exchange of knowledge and expertise between different actors at home and abroad and encouraging scientific research.
As to the role of media, it is the most important element of public diplomacy and it is used extensively by the enemies of our territorial integrity against our interests and to attract others sympathy to what they call their “cause”.
Now with the advancement of technology and the increased use of digital media post Arab Spring, there should be a more focus on cyber diplomacy, in addition to using different kinds of national and international media.
The essential challenge of the Web 2.0 world is that it enabled the preferred source of ‘someone like me’ to become the principal point of contact for all information. In this regard, it is a return to a village environment where key interlocutors and sources were the hundred or so ‘like you’ who made up the village. Now each person could gather her/his personal ‘village’ of friends in cyber space without regard for the limitations of geography. Yet, this needs a digital engagement teams moderating in on-line discussions and ‘correcting’ misunderstandings of their interlocutors.
We also have hundreds of Moroccan media correspondents of international and pan-Arab media outlets who can also contribute to branding Morocco and defending its interests.
MWN: Through you participation in many international forums, what is people’s view on the Democratic reforms undertaken recently by in Morocco?
KR: Well Morocco’s leadership and management of the public outcry caused by a series of protests inspired by the Arab spring is something that is considered as a model in the MENA region by several leaders I have met with during my international travels. By launching landmark reforms, responding to the aspirations of thousands of youth who took to the street demanding more freedom, dignity, and more social justice, Morocco was commended for ensuring a smooth transition to democracy without any revolution.
Karima Rhanem is a Moroccan Communications and social media Specialist, researcher on Governance & Public Policy, former journalist and a social activist with over 10 years of experience in civil society & youth issues. She is currently president of the Moroccan Association for development and Parallel Diplomacy. Ms Rhanem holds a BA in communications and Leadership studies, and preparing an MA in Governance and Public policies at Mohammed V University, Rabat.
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