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Soft Powers - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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We are witnessing the formation of a new Arab world, consisting of unprecedented elements which we can call “soft powers”, unlike the traditional powers of the past that relied on weapons and arms. Prominent current day soft powers are modern means of communication and social networking websites. Such tools have enabled many people to form “virtual parties” of considerable significance and impact on the ground, with which they have managed to broadcast news and information, and mobilize local and international public opinion.

These new powers have become more effective than old traditional political parties, which have distanced themselves from the slogans upon which they were established, and which later became involved in heinous acts of corruption, ultimately becoming more influential and important than the parliament “elected” by the people. Traditional parties have transformed into tools condoning injustice, corruption, tyranny and despotism, whilst soft powers have become more reliable than official media outlets, which now lack credibility and reliability even when broadcasting the weather forecast. Such soft powers are faster, more transparent, and have unlimited mobility. These powers have amazed and astonished the out-dated regimes that are accustomed only to direct confrontations with organizations and movements that have clear features on the ground.

However, soft powers are not all innocent tools, as many of them have been infiltrated or exploited. The aging regimes in our region have even tried to manipulate them, promoting themselves through such powers, but the “content” they presented wasn’t markedly different to what they used to present through traditional outlets. Their messages were obsolete and unconvincing, and so these outlets were “exposed and uncovered”, and their results only backfired. Freedom of expression and the freedom of the press have found a great platform and an uncontrolled climate, and information and news has been liberated and made widely available to the public, not confined to a specific elite.

What is most exiting and intriguing about these tools is their ability to continually develop and improve their performance, giving access to wider categories of people and explaining their viewpoints using words, sounds and images in a timely and instant manner, thus forcing old regimes to be in a continual state of defense and retreat. The old outlets will be defeated and eliminated extremely easily, if their demands do not exist or are mere fragments of the imagination. However, the realities on the ground and the injustice that is taking place there remain the most substantial and credible criteria to justify the new soft powers.

Regimes accuse soft powers of spreading lies, labelling them as traitors and foreign agents, whilst threatening their users with assassination, instead of recognizing what these powers are reporting and admitting that there is a real and an extremely serious problem that must be remedied and confronted. These tools are now in the hands of the people, wherever they are, and they are being used in different ways throughout the Third World as well as in major industrial countries, in line with the status of each nation and the requirements of its people.

However, this is a new, exciting experiment that is yet to be completed. It is still flexible and involves much mobility that will likely take on new shapes and dimensions. Such a vital mobility will have an extremely important impact, not only in the political sphere but also in the areas of finance and economy, labor and recruitment, consumer rights and their protection, family, violence, and sexual harassment laws, combating racism and the prevention of discrimination, fighting corruption and the enforcement of the law, and the promotion of transparency and accountability.

We are now facing a new world being formed and structured with new laws and different players. To emphasize the importance of what is going on in the Arab world, and how it is resonating globally, I will cite this story as evidence: Muammar Gaddafi once sought assistance from foreign countries to back his regime, and hence drafted in 22 doctors from North Korea. After Gaddafi had fallen, North Korea “rejected” the return of these doctors, requesting that they stay in Libya for fear that they would pass on what they saw and heard. It is worth noting that the number of mobile phone users in North Korea is less than one percent of the entire 24 million-strong population. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube do not operate there, and the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera channels are not broadcasted. Nevertheless, the North Korean government is concerned that the winds of the Arab Spring will blow its way.

This is a new world where the rules of the game have changed. Now the world itself is in the process of restructuring and changing, and we still do not know the full extent of the Arab Spring and its impact. Consider what is going on in Syria and Yemen carefully. Soft powers are the new buzzword of international politics, and anyone who can utilize them effectively can become a key player on the international arena.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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