Citizen Diplomacy

Last week I joined TEDx at LAU. It was a remarkable event, bringing together many of Lebanon’s realistic dreamers, pioneers and creators. Defying the anxiety and uncertainty about, it gave me renewed hope in Beirutopia. 

Lebanon is the frontline for coexistence. If we cannot live together here, we will fail to live together in Madrid, Paris and London. If we cannot better manage the Middle East’s transition towards security, justice and opportunity, we will face a generation of upheaval. In the end, politics will prevail. The job of diplomats is to help it do so without decades of bloodshed.

When I arrived in Lebanon two years ago, I was a social media virgin. I went through a phase of information harvesting. Then a phase of excited engagement and connection. I’m still doing both, probably too much of both. But what I now believe is more exciting is mobilisation.

And that’s where I believe that social media, coexistence and diplomacy coincide. There is lots of talk about citizen journalists, but not enough about citizen diplomats. Behind the ‘excellencies’ and the protocol, diplomacy is not a mysterious cult. It doesn’t require years of training like medicine or law. We’re basically working, especially somewhere like Lebanon, for coexistence. Anyone can do that, and many people do here, through small acts of resistance against apathy, division, corruption and fatalism.

The smartphone is a superpower. But like all superpowers, it depends on how we use it. We can download pictures of cute cats or flirt with the girl in the fourth row. Or we can use it to shape the environment around us.

So I asked the people at TED what their digital epitaph would be.
There was a huge wall on which participants wrote their aspirations for Lebanon 2020, and how they would help. We buuilt alliances and, true to TED, generated ideas.

I would love to see more people using social media as just such a wall. Plus the occasional cute cat.


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