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Just-in-time IISS

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The 7th Manama Dialogue run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies [IISS] is almost upon us. It will take place at the Ritz Carlton this weekend from Dec 3rd – 5th and will be attended by virtually the who’s-who in world’s political and security spheres.

The delegates this year are probably the most powerful collection of individuals the conference has ever had. They include:

Some 25 government delegations will include prime ministers, foreign and defence ministers, chiefs of defence staff, permanent secretaries, military and intelligence chiefs and distinguished delegates from the private sector.

Selected delegation leaders and senior government officials include:

  • HRH Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander, Bahrain
  • HM King Abdullah II, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Zalmai Rassoul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan
  • Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Australia
  • Sh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain
  • Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, Canada
  • General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, Canada
  • Admiral Edouard Guillaud, Chief of Defence Staff, France
  • Christian Schmidt, Parliamentary State Secretary for Defence, Germany
  • Manouchehr Mottaki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran
  • Dr Barham Saleh, Prime Minister, Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq
  • Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iraq
  • Hajime Hirota, Parliamentary Secretary of Defense, Japan
  • Nasser Judeh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jordan
  • Sh Dr Muhammad Al Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kuwait
  • Lieutenant General Waheed Arshad Chauhdry, Chief of the General Staff, Pakistan
  • Sh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Qatar
  • HRH Prince Naef Bin Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud , Advisor to HRH the Crown Prince Sultan, Saudi Arabia
  • HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Chairman, Board of Directors, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Saudi Arabia
  • Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Singapore
  • Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden
  • Professor Dr Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Turkey
  • HH Sh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, UAE
  • Lieutenant General Hamad Thani Al Romaithi, Chief of Staff, UAE Armed Forces
  • Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, UK
  • General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, UK
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, US
  • General James Mattis, Commander, US Central Command
  • Dr Abubakr Al Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yemen

Among those whom I shall be particularly interested to hear is Secretary of State for the United States Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s conference’s opening address, as well as attending her press conference in which I hope she will field considered questions and will at least attempt to answer them without too much of a political twist or fluff. I suspect some of the areas she will be questioned on is Cablegate, obviously, but also the US’ future in this region, particularly Iraq, Afghanistan and most importantly the Gulf including the Iranian situations. I would dearly like to hear an unequivocal support for Human Rights defenders in this region and a strong US-led push into democratic reforms. Naive? Possibly, but I would rather be optimistic at this point.

Another thing of interest will be King Abdulla 2’s keynote address and see how his physical proximity to Iran and the Iranian delegation will revise his position, yet again, on his “Shi’a Crescent” theory, and how the revelations of the Wikileaks cables will have coloured that position. He’s a good public speaker, but I’m not sure that we’ll get coherent content from him. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though and wait to hear what he has to say.

In this conference, even though Wikileaks will be at the forefront of the delegates’ and attendees’ minds, the main published theme of the conference this year is “Spotlight on Nuclear Proliferation and Missile Defence”, a theme which obviously has not been chosen haphazardly. It clearly demonstrates the import of the Iranian nuclear issue to everyone in the region and its impact on the regional and global security and stability, apart from the perceived or real threat the Iranian nuclear program has on Israel and the Americans.

Although most of the delegates will be from the security stream, I do hope that diplomats at least will take this golden opportunity to initiate a much needed dialogue between the Arabs and the Iranians. The Iranians too should take this opportunity to genuinely reciprocate and engage both the Arabs and the Americans and allay their suspicions by being open and transparent about their nuclear programs under the auspices of the international community.

This region has lived through perpetual tensions and wars for millennia, I don’t for a second assume that this – or any other conference – is going to resolve long set adversarial positions, but wise men should take any opportunity to at least find a point of equilibrium to allow progress, safety and security to be achieved for fellow human beings. Just imagine how this area would be transformed for the better with democratic, just and transparent rule. Don’t you think that we can most certainly build a better future for us and our children? Of course we could, we need to exert a concerted effort at achieving such a position. We owe it to future generations not to lose this one or be lethargic about the search for peace.

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M.Report S01E25 – The Intersection between Citizen Journalism and Traditional Media

M.Report S01E25 – The Intersection between Citizen Journalism and Traditional Media

This is my contribution to the journalism workshop I am attending at the moment where I was privileged to be on the panel discussing the intersection between the old and new media. On the panel with me were Emmabenji (emmabenji.canalblog.com, tunisia), Mohammed Zainabi (zainabi.com, morocco), Yazid Haddar (psycho.dzblog.com, algeria) and Daoud Kuttab (ammannet.net, jordan – visiting professor at Princeton Uni).

Considering that the basic human activity of communication, has been with us since the first human painted on cave walls, it’s surprising that when it comes to a modern activity of writing on a largely personal online diary, elicits such a need as to pigeon-hole people and their generated thoughts into categories such as “journalism” or any other adjectives.

This – I feel – has been given rise by society and maybe mainstream media in particular, to distinguish themselves as “the” source for news and valid opinion, while any other is simply invalid or at least less worthy of consideration.

History tells us that this is the same reaction when the radio first started its mainstream transmission with the reaction of newsprint, and also when television was first introduced and it received its fare share of ridicule by newsprint, radio and even the theatre!

Maybe by pigeon-holing, mainstream media think they can “wheedle out” the good from the bad, again thinking in that ubiquitous “black and white” methodology, a condescending approach by assuming that they alone can select what is good for us.

But with such a huge platform, it is impossible to apply these methods. Old metrics simply won’t do. What we have now is a huge crowd-sourced material, terabytes of information which is published every single day, and with the way that the fusion of communication methods currently experienced – text, audio, video, animation, and photographs – this trend will only escalate.

Yes, traditional media is supposed to have the safeguards to at least distinguish between fact and opinion, but in today’s connected world this is not so critical.

The point; therefore, is not simple to try to draw a line between a blog and main-stream media to achieve distinction and simple categorisation, but employ critical thinking and other skills to evaluate what is being presented, regardless of source.

What blogs provide is a huge base of crowd sourced information. Sifting through that information and evaluating it is not a small exercise, but categorising it with the old “journalistic standards” will not achieve much. We have to recognise that with this wealth of published information, decision makers have a new tool that they can employ which they never had access to before:

What we have now – thanks to the explosion of blogging – is an ocean of raw data, one if mined properly, could give them an excellent understanding of the feelings and needs of “normal people” – the street – that traditional media with its inbuilt sanitorial control could never give them.

How one uses that facility, it is up to them.

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The New Media Environment: Paths to Understanding

The premise of the Aspen Institute’s conference I just attended at the Dead Sea in Jordan was somewhat different from the others I had in the past. This one took on the shape of an informal round table discussion with leaders and visionaries of the industry; in them was the grounded wealth of experience unparalleled outside of that room. Their level – board members, CEOs, journalists of note, university professors and renowned new media practitioners – is indicative of the seriousness at which the Aspen Institute’s genuine desire to add value to an oft used and malleable mantra of rapprochement between East and West; Arab and US relations to be exact; and how specifically to harness the power of the emergence of new media to ameliorate differences and elevate the level of discussion within that sphere to be objective and cohesive to engender true understanding.

CNN’s Rym Brahimi - Princess Rym AliThe agenda was given direction by her royal highness princess Rym Ali who is no stranger to journalism; having been an international correspondent with world broadcasters like CNN with stints in Iraq and other trouble spots in the world. She spoke with passion tempered with erudition drawing on her experience in the field and raising many difficult questions challenging the attendees to consider; in her keynote speech she drew many parallel situations in world reporting which demonstrably shows the dichotomy of ignorance on both sides of the equation recognising the prejudices held in the news media explicitly on both sides of the divide and laying down a challenge to the attendees to come up with practical implementable solutions for us all to take on board.

As the conference was chiefly considering the effects of new media – a term which is traditionally interpreted as blogs exclusively; but in really should also encompass capital intensive endeavors like news-sites, satellite television, internet radio as well as old media’s forays into the internet – the sessions started appropriately with short presentations followed by round table discussions in those regards.

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Washington DC here I come!

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I’m honoured to announce that I shall one of the speakers at a RAND Corporation conference, this time in Washington, DC:

Creative Use of the Media II: Washington, DC
February 28th, 2008
Location: The RAND Corporation

I’ll be staying for a few extra days in the area and will enjoy the sights and sounds of Washington, DC and hopefully New York City too.

Any pointers on what I should do and what to see will be appreciated.

I hope to connect with some friends there (BonsaiMark, Desert Island Boy, Silly Bahraini Girl – if they’re not too far away – and Steve all of whom are hopefully listening!), so if you’re in the area let me know. And Steve, I’ll be completely un-armed. I promise!

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[FIKR6] quicky recommendations

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1. Look into improving the registration process. It’s taking unnecessarily long and people are getting rather frustrated.

2. The whole conference is about the intersection of technology and education, yet, we don’t have a free wireless network at the conference area which can not only facilitate its use for filing stories, but also its absence might demonstrate that the conference is all talk without implementation. I was rather frustrated by not getting access and not have a free and fast internet connection at the venue was roundly (and vociferously) criticised by several attendees.

3. (for the hotel) Paying BD7 for two hours access is absolute usury. Get with the program. Even 4 star hotels in Amman now provide internet access (both wired and wireless) for free. The Ritz being supposedly the best we have does not do itself nor its reputation any service whatsoever by this ridiculous fee.

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