In times of existing conflict or political unrest, public diplomacy can be leveraged to support the changing perspective countries may have about other countries like the United States. For example – during the Arab Spring when the United States remained closely tied to Mubarak, the Egyptian people verbalized their disappointment and disagreement with the United States (posters with Ant-US messages along with Twitter and Facebook messages directed at the United States). For a country that preaches free elections and freedom of speech and the right to protest for what you believe in – the Egyptian people immediately questioned prior public diplomacy efforts of the United States where the country had tried to educate the Egyptian people on these values. When the United States rushed to Mubarak’s side in the waking of the Arab Spring; U.S. popularity remained low and the disagreement was clearly seen through social media and international news stories. The United States had been working at this point throughout the Middle East to normalize relations with Arab communities.
However, when an Islamist party came to rule; the United States needed a new strategy; as the domino effect only continued. Once accepting the new reality – that throughout countries in MENA more and more Islamist parties would be ruling; the United States shifted its approach with public diplomacy and identified new opportunities to support the transitioning countries that recently completed free elections. Through various public diplomacy means – a country like the United States can support transitioning countries by providing resources to build the infrastructure necessary to promote free elections, provide technical support and financial support to civil society organizations and journalists to support a free country; and provide necessary assistance to help the people.
As Jillian York points out in her article “The Arab Digital Vanguard” – many journalists and bloggers in the Arab Spring countries were arrested if not physically attacked for what they wanted to publish. A public diplomacy initiative around supporting these bloggers and journalists; as well as supporting the government with better understanding the value and importance of the principles of free speech would be a great public diplomacy initiative for a country like the United States to take on.