Twitter was created by American software programmer Jack Dorsey and three of his partners in March 2006. It was launched as a micro-blogging site in July the same year. By Jack Dorsey’s own admission, Twitter meant “a short burst of inconsequential information and chirps from birds,” and “that is exactly what the product was”.
But today, Twitter seems to have become more powerful than embassies established around the world. All-powerful leaders don’t wait for their seasoned envoys to talk to their counterparts in respective countries. They chirp on Twitter and diplomacy is done.
The latest example is Saudi Arabia’s snapping of ties with Canada, a country the Islamic nation depends on import of arms and weapons, among others. Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Canada and expelled Canadian envoy from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has said that it would cancel or divert scholarship of hundreds of students studying in Canada. A defence deal, already in controversy, between the two countries is also in jeopardy.
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi.
From Twitter To Suspended Ties
It all began on August 2, when Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland accused Saudi Arabia of persecuting human rights activists.
Chrystia Freeland wrote on Twitter: “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”
Her post on Twitter was followed up with another statement from the official handle of the foreign ministry of Canada. It said, “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”
Raif Badawi is the best known women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia. He has campaigned for driving rights for women and against the law that a woman is required to have a male guardian to represent her. Saudi Arabia recently granted women the right to drive vehicle alone.
Raif Badawi is currently serving a 10-year jail term for insulting Islam. Samar Badawi has been demanding release of her brother. Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haider and their three children were granted Canadian citizenship in July this year.
Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as an acknowledgement of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs.
Against this background, the two tweets did not go down well with Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is known to take strong exception of any criticism of the country in the name of human rights or freedom of expression.
Saudi Arabia termed the Canadian foreign minister Chrystia’s post on Twitter “an affront to the kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty.”
“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as an acknowledgement of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” it said.
Saudi Arabia suspended its diplomatic ties with Canada. It also suspended flight operations from Riyadh to Canada.
Trump Is Poster Boy Of Twitter Diplomacy
Previously, US President Donald Trump had been seen leading frontal attacks on rival countries, taking even the White House officials by surprise. Trump’s attempt to give diplomatic enclaves a miss was recently spurned by Russia.
On April 11, first came Trump’s tweet: Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov responded by saying, “We do not participate in Twitter diplomacyWe support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation.”
We do not participate in Twitter diplomacyWe support serious approaches.
But Trump seems to prefer Twitter to diplomacy. In January this year he had virtually threatened to nuke North Korea even as his diplomats were engaged in bringing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to negotiation table.
Trump had then written on Twitter: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Questions Beyond Twitter
Coming back to Saudi Arabia-Canada diplomatic row via Twitter, Riyadh chose to ignore a similar condemnation by the UN on the question of human rights violation. On July 31, the UN said, “We urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists, who have been detained for their peaceful human rights work.”
While the Canadian minister spoke about two activists, the UN spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani named at least eight human and women’s rights defenders, who were being persecuted by Saudi Arabia, but it simply ignored the terse remarks.
Does this tell that the world leaders treat virtual media as more real and serious? Is Twitter diplomacy on the road to replace mission-based diplomacy? Are Twitter summits the future of diplomacy? This will, at least, save some money for the host country and time for leaders.
News credit : Indiatoday