Home to the world's oldest nations, the Middle East is also home to some of the world's most long-standing conflicts. Like EUrope's eastern neighbourhood, also the wider MENA region seems to be unable to protect itself from being exposed to new forms of conflicts, given the digital, economic and insurgent-ideological rather than physical-geographical spheres of operation of the latter. For example, the currently ongoing crisis between Qatar and a Saudi-led coalition of MENA countries is an alarming sign of how far-reaching the consequences of "fake news" operations can be. In a blitz, and using a "fake news" story on Qatar’s state news agency, five Arab countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar that is said to lend its support to the Muslim Brotherhood and enjoy friendly relations with Iran. While the story was soon dispelled as fake, and its origins are still under investigation, the negative effects it created cannot but raise concerns with regard to the use of digital (dis)information in the region. In particular Jihadi terrorist groups have become increasingly versed in using social media to recruit and communicate – both in the region and further afield.
The boundless reach of ISIS' online activities, including its penetration into the EUropean information space, presents a serious challenge of polarization and radicalization within states and societies more generally, and in the conflict-torn MENA region in particular. Conflicting interests of indigenous communities in the region, as well as the local and global geopolitical players, turn weaponized information, including (dis)information tools, into a no less powerful and dangerous means of warfare than conventional arms. The effects of the deployment of this explosive blend are particularly visible in Syria, where the conflict of narratives and arms seems to be far from ending. Geopolitically-loaded (dis)information and propaganda machines, put in motion by a number of state and non-state actors, continue to generate a negative impact on international perceptions and reactions to regional conflicts and crises. Active digital campaigns advance hostile propaganda, including in and against EUrope and its southern neighbours, plant doubt and confusion, distort truths, discredit institutions, and promote hatred of sorts.
As part of the Natolin Neighbourhood Days 2017, the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair organized a round-table debate devoted to the growing challenges of disinformation geopolitics, weaponized strategic communications and narratives that EUrope and the countries of the MENA region, as well as their societies, have been facing en masse for the last decade:
- The Media, the Public Mind and the Geopolitics of (Dis)Information in the MENA Region
Dr Neville BOLT, Director, King's Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC), King’s College London, Department of War Studies; Editor-in-Chief, Defence Strategic Communications Journal; Associate Fellow, The International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT), The Hague
- Fake News' in Europe and its Southern Neighbourhood: The Double Challenge of Russia and ISIS Disinformation Geopolitics
Ms Donara BAROJAN, Assistant Director R&D and Digital Forensic (@DFRLab) Research Associate Baltics, Atlantic Council
- Russia’s (Dis)Information Gambit in Syria and the Wider MENA Region
Mr Mark VOYGER, Special Advisor on Russian and Eurasian Affairs to US Army Europe (USAREUR) Commanding General, LtGen Ben HODGES; Senior Fellow, The Potomac Foundation
- ISIS Constitutive and Geopolitical Narratives in Light of its (Dis)Information Offensives in the MENA Region and Beyond
Maj Rafał ZGRYZIEWICZ, Staff Officer, Doctrine, Concept and Experimentation Branch, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence
Chair: Professor Tobias SCHUMACHER, Chairholder, European Neighbourhood Policy Chair, College of Europe (Natolin campus)