Citizen diplomacy – there's an organization in the US dedicated to that, the Center for Citizen Diplomacy – is something that got an impetus during the Bush "why do they hate us?" years.
Keith Reinhardt, an advertising executive, launched a movement called "Business for Diplomatic Action," which he explained to NPR in 2006 was a way of countering the "ugly American" image. Basically, these efforts help foster "purposeful global engagement at a person-to-person level."
In Morocco, which doesn't really have an image problem, the notion of "parallel government" has caught on with a group of young people – many of whose "ministers" were present at our discussion – who have formed a Gouvernement Parallèle des Jeunes.
For the youth gathered at the Legation, along with a healthy number of practicing journalists from print and radio, notions of "parallel diplomacy" were much more focused on one issue: how best to foster Morocco's position regarding the Sahara. After presentations from our panel of journalists, question after question (or rather, statement after statement) from the youthful audience centered around the perceived lack of vigor in the press' coverage of this vital issue for Morocco.
Our journalists explained that Morocco's media are emerging from the monopoly era, when the written press was largely political-party based, and there were no private radio stations as there are now. Private does not necessarily equate to independent, and several bemoaned the lack of vision to go beyond the strictly local. Radio Tangier, which used to have the modifier "International" and broadcast in a number of languages, now only uses Arabic. Getting the message to international audiences will require better trained journalists, who also need to specialize.
While no one can fault this initiative at civic involvement by young citizens, my advice to the group was that their concept of parallel diplomacy was too restrictive, apparently consisting of one very highly charged political issue. Important as this issue is to Morocco, a one-note song will soon tire listeners among audiences abroad. Citizen diplomacy, on the other hand, can be applied in so many domains: academic, cultural, business… the list is endless.
And Morocco, with its large stream of foreign tourists, its sizable communities of overseas Moroccans, and as a place which attracts a steady stream of students and scholars, presents myriad opportunities for people-to-people diplomacy. Citizen diplomacy is best practiced one on one.
Gerald Loftus; photos courtesy Imad Eddine Bonnouh