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UN Week: What Was Trending on Social Media?

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I was live on AlHurra TV-MBN on the 25th of September 2013 discussing the role of the Middle East in UN week. Alhurra is a United States-based Arabic-language satellite TV channel funded by the U.S. Congress.

Click here to watch the interview

These were the main points of my argument.

UN week: What was trending in social media?

Important trends on twitter and social media, in my opinion, were the following:

(i) John Kerry signing a global arms trade treaty, with the Senate threatening to block it,
(ii) Climate change,
(iii) The correlation between strong health systems and econic growth, such as in Japan,
(iv) Universal health coverage,
(v) Obama's speech,
(vi) America's discourse with Hassan Rouhani,
(vii) Obama's foreign policy doctrine, and
(viii) Syrian refugees.

UN week: What were the reactions?

The reactions on social media were divided into two camps: the positive and the negative. There were those who viewed UN week as a success, and these tweets emphasied that current endeavors reitirated mutual respect among members states, highlighted policy interests and needs of different countries, and, on a larger scale, focused on the creation of an ambitious agenda. On the other end, tweets of critics stressed that the issues discussed by world leaders were covered awkwardly and inconsistent,ly, with the logic of dialogue between the parties being strained and contradictory.

Will the UN team visit to Syria be any different from previous endeavors to unearth nuclear weapons?

In the interview, I argue that the upcoming UN visit will be a complete game changer because we are now facing a different playing field.

Why?

The UN team visit earlier this year dealt with the Syrian regime denying the existence of chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons, at that moment, was conjecture. As such, the UN team's mandate focused on three things - finding whether chemical weapons were used, discovering the scope of weapons and usage, and while doing that, figureing out whether weapons were used at all. Subsequent to this, however, the Syrian regime signed the treaty and agreed to remove chemical weapons over time - here, we have a specific time frame, and milestones under UN supervision - something which Syria never accepted in past. Now, the UN team has different tasks and roles - not tactical or related to one specific incident (chemical weapons have been used 14 times over 30 month period!) but, rather, working with the Syrian regime's chemical stockpile. It is hoped that there will be a proper timetable to be implemented with demands, what weapons should be removed from Syria, where should they be taken to, and who should supervise it. Perhaps a binding UN resolution is needed on the issue.

Which topics were discussed in social media regarding UN week?

The topics discussed were many - almost 200 countries have stepped on the global stage to express to the world what they want. Economic development, equality, education, trade, growth, are all popular hashtags on Twittter. Certain topical interests focus on the geopolitical stability of Middle East: users were tweeting about Iran, Syria, Israel, and Palestine: indicating a Middle East orientated approach. Other countries of interest were China, though Japan, India, and Korea (both South and North) were less popular tweeting.

In my opinion, the popularity of tweets focusing on the Middle East region signals a need for long-term public engagement in the Middle East. Three main schemes follow:

Iran: Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a major source of instability in the United States. It is encoruaging that President Hassan Rohani received a mandate to pursue more a moderate course from the Iranian people, and this is positive. But diplomates have been walking out of the room as Hassan Rohani takes to the microphone. On the ground, Iran's halting of nuclear enrichment will ease tough economic sanctions. In Iran, Obama's speech has been met with a positive response in the media.

Syria: It is almost certain that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on August 21st in Damascus. Therefore, there is a lot of attention on enforcement: if the Security Council can't agree on a resolution including conditions for Syria to comply with commitment to destroy chemical weapons, the would imply that the UN cannot enforce basic international law. These concerns have been paralleled on social media - where people have been stating that military action won't achieve peace. Assad is delegitimised in a fractured country, and Syria has been a hot topic for two years, but really, not much has been accomplished.

Jordan: Aid to refugees is particularly important.


Israel/Palestine:
On twitter, the focus has been on Palestine becoming a recognised member state, here members of both sides are expressing frustration over prose and action.

Watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tRvlw--xZM

Nikita Malik is a researcher from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. You can follow her on www.nikitamalik.com or @nixmalik on Twitter.