The Twitter Embassy

Two articles have been published over the past few days about the pioneer bloggers in this area of which I am privileged to be counted as one. The first article written by Sultan Al-Qassemi and the other published just today by Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri in his daily column in Al-Wasat newspaper in which he too asserted the role that these bloggers have played over the years in shaping self-expression and speech in the Arab world specifically.

While both should be thanked for their excellent articles and thoughts, I suggest that some attention should also be paid to the others who are shaping opinion on Twitter whose effect far outstrips that of many bloggers combined; those ladies and gentlemen are the politicians and other opinion formers who are normally not as approachable as they should be in real life, understandably so of course, their agendas and meeting schedules are probably filled for years to come, and in order to secure an appointment with them might take weeks to find that crack in those agendas where one might squeeze in. But in the Twitter world, they are as available and approachable as any other person simply because they choose to utilize those precious seconds between their appointments or from what little time they give themselves to relax in to dedicate to interacting with their countrymen and others around the world.

I’ve written about these people a few months ago – just days before the Bahraini revolt – in a “Twitter, or the Olive Branch” in which I identified a few of those I admire for their social media activities, chief amongst them are:

Twitter has become the activists’ best friend and confident. To me what’s as important, is the direct connection it offers to people who could actually effect change, and if they can’t at least they are veritable influencers in their spheres to move issues into resolution or focus timelines. Through Twitter and its 140 characters, people from all walks of life can directly communicate with influencers like our very own foreign minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, as they could too with US President Barak Obama, the US State Dept, the United Nations Secretary GeneralCarl BildtKevin Rudd and the British Foreign Minister William Hague. Most of the ones listed above actually tweet themselves or are very aware of their channels, therefore, what better chance is there for us plebs to affect our circumstance by not only following, but engaging with these forces? I don’t think this state of affairs is going to last long, sadly. As Twitter and its influential tweeps bloom, it’s only natural to expect that the direct channels to wane.

Now that I think of what I have written then, the availability of these influencers is more important than ever. No matter how you view these people and regardless of whether you agree with them, their continued availability in Twitter especially is very welcome. The reason is as simple as why warring countries keep their embassies open in each other’s countries. How else could those warring countries even consider peaceful overtures if they can’t transmit them through those communications channels?

While I don’t suggest for a minute that Bahrain is at war, it is extremely important to understand – and yes, support, these influencers to stay within this open virtual space using their own names and positions in order for them to be much closer to a wider section of society. This does allow them to immediately understand the “street’s” feelings and hope that through this awareness, they will be in a better position to transmit those needs and feelings to those in power to influence them enough to effect change.

Therefore, to me, I must confess my utter disgust to witness some who fancy themselves as “activists” use this space to destroy such an important bridge which could be used for helping the whole country by working as a pack to attack someone like our foreign minister amongst other influencers in government. The ethics of democracy and discussion which they are calling for day and night should be respected and as such, these stupid attacks must stop. They are only doing possibly irreversible harm to their own cause. I am relatively sure; however, that Shaikh Khalid and hopefully others in his position understand that these attacks are mounted by simpletons who do not represent the people who do want to take this country to a better, more equitable platform to be enjoyed by all.

Understand that I’m not calling for handling these public figures with kid-gloves, far from it, they can take much more than what has been levied so far I suspect, but ethics must be respected in order to portray grievances in a sphere on which some action can be taken, rather than because of crudeness, legitimate causes be discarded and discredited.

I admire Shaikh Khalid for having the required thick skin to ignore these attacks and doing the astute political thing of not engaging with them. How long he will stay to take that kind of abuse is another matter altogether; for had it been me I would have probably escaped Twitter and closed my account a long time ago. He, I know, is better than me and is with a wider and more tolerant heart.

My friends, temper your attacks and choose your battles wisely. Refrain from childish attacks on the very bridge who can help your cause. The last thing we want at this important juncture in our country’s history is to continue to shout at each other, rather than find the platform to engage and talk to each other to fix the situation and move forward.

16 thoughts on “The Twitter Embassy”

  1. Great article Mahmood. I find your writings and thoughts always inspire my morning, and inspire me to achieve and go the extra mile when I am about to give up and call it a day. Good luck to you my friend in your ventures and I wish you the best for 2012. Keep spreading the good word and يعطيك العافية

  2. Shaikh Khalid has once replied to my tweets. I have tweeted to him since February & my tweets are measured, questioning and of great importance. Recently he tweeted

    He had tweeted this:

    khalidalkhalifa Khalid Alkhalifa
    الانقسام الطائفي اللي نعيشه ليل نهار هو ما دعاني لإبداء الألم .. والتعبير بكل شفافية .. و من اشعل الفتنة في فبراير يعرف نفسه

    khalidalkhalifa Khalid Alkhalifa
    من اختلف مع ما قلته فله التقدير و الاحترام . و من آذاه ما سمع مني فليسامحني .. و من سبني و شتمني فأقول له الله يسامحك .

    This in English says he tweeted: I feel pain because of the sectarian divide Bahrain lives which was caused by February movement!

    I therefore tweeted over 20 tweets explaining where the sectarianism came from & what BICI said. It is becoming clear from his comments that he has not read BICI!
    .@khalidalkhalifa Para 69 & 72 files.bici.org.bh/BICIreportEN.p… which explains complexity of situation & some Shia concerns which u need to know about

    .@khalidalkhalifa Read BICI paragraph 66 & 69 files.bici.org.bh/BICIreportEN.p… to get an intro to the sectarianism you wrongly believe began in Feb

    He did not respond.

    Of course, he has the right to do that but my tweets are not crude, rude or threatening. The Trolls do that to me, but I want intelligent debate. There seems little point him being on Twitter as he does not engage in debate at all.

    Today he was showing off photos of Mosques. Highly insensitive, considering the Gvt’s demolishing of many religious buildings & their inability to rebuild as they promised.

    I have about 4 of my Twitter followers who also tweet to him in polite terms. He does not respond to them, either.

    If he reads his @ stream, his attitude is not changing having read them. He is not learning, from those who tweet important questions to him. My own FM William Hague shows himself to be an extremely busy man, working & traveling to many countries to promote UK in an environment of human rights. Bahrain’s FM seems to travel for his own enjoyment, & is unable to engage with those who tweet politely but firmly to him.

    1. I won’t defend Shaikh Khalid as he can do that himself and I hope he does address the issues raised in his own words.

      As to your assertion of him traveling for pleasure, I would say that he manages his time better than most and gets a chance to explore a city he visits when his official duties are over, or those visits actually could be part of his official tasks too. As a businessman, I do too as does every other business person I know when they travel. It’s a wasted opportunity otherwise.

      I also honestly don’t see a parallel between him visiting Islamic institutions and sharing those visits with his followers and the criminal destruction of the mosques and other places of worship in Bahrain. I couldn’t see his name mentioned in this regard in the BICI report, and I am convinced, knowing the man, that he was complicit in ordering such wanton destruction.

      Like any human being, he has his failings of course. I don’t agree with him sometimes, but that doesn’t allow me to label the man and launch unwarranted attacks on him. I do hope that he does engage with people on Twitter and gives an official or personal responses to the legitimate questions raised, but trolls attacking him or any other public figure all of whom are capable of acting like bridges is obscene and does not serve the cause or transforming this country into the democracy we wish it to be.

    2. Twitter is hardly the place for debate, you can’t squeeze a reply into 140 characters. Spamming tweets is even worse.

  3. I agree that Twitter is not the place for debates. As any busy person will tell you, it’s counter productive to get into debates with people on Twitter. Personally, it’s impossible to reply to all those that tweet me, as I have my businesses to run. Though I’ve not counted, I’m sure Sh, Khalid must get dozens, if not hundreds of tweets a day, so forgive him for not answering. He’ll answer – I assume – when he has a bit more time on his hands, and will be selective to who he will reply. He probably will give priority to those he know personally.

    1. Exactly, Suhail. I think it’s pretty arrogant to instantly expect a reply from a person who gets hundreds of daily tweets. Sure, you might have typed out a well thought-of reply, but so did many others between the masses of trolls.

  4. Twitter “may not be the place for debates,” but it is like the townsquare or meeting hall or tribal fire of old. A place to gather and share thoughts, ideas and experiences! Of course, just as there are those who might shout at you, call you names or otherwise attack you, there are others who will rise to defend you — just like in the streets.

  5. Mahmood if in a society you are being marginalised and targeted by a regime that is prepared to sacrifice you, family and friends for the sake it’s existence – not just that – refuses to have real dialogue with you when year after year you’ve called for one – not just that – but associated you with ‘foreign intervention’ – not just that – but frames you with violent and criminal acts from time to time. Given that in real terms, how would you treat those who even strive to keep that regime in power? 
    BICI made it clear to every sane Bahraini they have been fooled under the ‘friendly bahrain’ illusion. 

    I remember the times when Khalid months ago (when peaceful protests happened) associated protesters with Iran and accused them of using violence, what’s worse is he used raw photos of Molotov being thrown. Yet when raw photos emerged to him of martyrs he dismissed them on twitter as ‘fabrications’. This exposes great deal of hypocrisy and no one should be fearful to express this against him directly. Freedom of speech, It’s not like he’s special, blue-blooded or something :)

    My dear Mahmood, this blog post would have been complete with the mention of the many regime trolls flooding twitter with no DP and a follower, threatening polite activists with rape, murder and spew hate phrases worse that Khalid will ever hear. 

    Dudebh.

    1. Dude I’m not concerned with anyone taking issue with any official in this country including Shaikh Khalid and challenging them with evidence, showing them that they have been wrong or unjust in their actions or statements or any of the other constructive methods in which a person could be made to correct his ways or stances. I have no qualms whatsoever in this, in fact, I think it is the duty of every loyal citizen to do just that, after all, these officials being public servants are there to serve us, not the other way around.

      What I wanted to achieve with the article is for everyone to realize the importance of having effecting personalities like Shaikh Khalid and others on Twitter specifically as the medium allows you, me and every person in Bahrain to directly reach them, something that is in most cases near impossible in real life.

      With this goal in mind, don’t you think that the rules of civilized conversation should be enacted? Not just for the respect of the person’s position at least, but also to ensure that continuance of his or her availability at least for the term of their tenure?

      Consider the alternative: the personality closes his account, and that bridge and connection would be severed; worse, hand over that account to a PR flunky in the ministry with untold frustrating results!

      Which would you choose?

      1. Thank you Mahmood, I see exactly where you’re coming from. You are right in that twitter can bridge gaps between the people and those higher in levels of authority which can be beneficial. However, if we look at this in Bahrain’s context and in the eyes of an average everyday oppressed Bahraini who is either oppressed himself or knows someone who is oppressed, it is apparent that the existence of a foreign minister like khalid on twitter is worthless – What’s the point in bridging this gap while the very essence of what khalid represents has a shot gun pointing towards your head? That bridge and connection has already been severed and buried – I have more respect for a man who tells me where he stands and tortures me than a person who fools me with his sly twitter now-and-again politeness and still tortures me.

        Fortunately – on the 14th February – the majority of today’s Bahrainis have realised that tolerance and moderation in the face of oppression, inequality and marginalisation is unintelligent and ineffective –What is effective (even on twitter) is as Malcolm X puts it – intelligently directed extremism.

        Stop sweet-talking him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what kind of hell you’ve been catching and let him know that if he’s not ready to clean his house up, he shouldn’t have a house. It should catch on fire and burn down. – Malcolm X

  6. In all fairness, and giving the benefit of the doubt, I think the FM Sh. Khalid Al-Khalifa should defend his record and clarify his position. At the same time he is not obliged to do so, let us not forget that he is representing the establishment he is employed by.

  7. The most pertinent question that should be asked is: why is this man foreign minister? Is it because he, of all Bahrainis, is the single most talented, educated, best qualified person for the job? Or is it because of which womb he happened to emerge from? I’ll allow others to answer.

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