Fast Company

Israel and Palestine Flip Mideast Protest Script, Govern via Facebook

Facebook in the Middle East isn't just for the young rebels--both Israel and Palestine are beginning to use the popular social network to offer government services.

Israel govt. Facebook page

Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments have launched separate, concurrent campaigns to conduct egovernment via Facebook.

Egovernment--a favored term among policy wonks these days--basically means offering government services and interaction via the Internet or smartphones. As the Arab Revolutions of 2011 proved, Middle Easterners are deeply familiar with the use of Facebook when it comes to politics (see: Egypt). This also seems to be the case when it comes to the entrenched governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a noted technocrat, is using his Facebook page to solicit suggestions for future Cabinet appointments. Palestine's Cabinet was dissolved on February 14 following the upheaval in Egypt and new members are expected to be appointed in April.

According to Foreign Policy's Erica Silverman, the campaign received a ton of input from the Palestinian public:

Fayyad's social networking overture generated an almost instantaneous response, as nearly a thousand Palestinians voiced their opinion just hours later, many calling for increased democracy:

"We want new, fresh faces that are qualified and educated, and have a solid reputation, " commented Haitham Wafi, "Not officials that just want to appear on television."

Omar Adas wrote: "I have faith in this experiment using Facebook to hear our voices, and I hope that you, Mr. Fayyad, will give it enough time to prove useful." Others were not as positive.

"Free elections will do, dear Fayyad, but apparently those who decide our destiny were not so happy with the results of that," said Hamza Abusalsah. "Claiming we are a true democracy is deluding," he said.

Fayyad has also launched another popular egovernment campaign via Facebook group page, aiming to sell Palestinians on the idea of a Fatah-Hamas unity government. Fatah currently runs the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank with Israeli and American support, while their bitter rivals in Hamas are the de-facto rulers of Gaza. Hamas won the last round of Palestinian elections in 2006.

Meanwhile, an Israeli attempt to embrace egovernment ended in widespread apathy. Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom turned to Facebook to promote the adoption of the three-day weekend in Israel. Israel observes a Friday-Saturday weekend centered around the Jewish Sabbath, rather than the Saturday-Sunday weekend followed in most of the world. Shalom wants Israeli businesses to shut down on Sunday and to redistribute the rest of the hours throughout the working week. According to Shalom's Facebook page, beginning the workweek on Monday will "adjust Israel to the rest of the world socially and economically."

The Facebook campaign, which was launched in conjunction with the Lila HaCalculi (Economics Night) television program, only gained 150 fans after heavy promotion on national television. Israeli business paper Globes says the campaign fell upon deaf ears with the public following the nationwide media blitz.

Shalom's campaign is now faring better, with 2,267 fans a week later and more than 600 comments, most of which are supportive. However, the slow launch for the project is a bad sign for Israel, whose recent egovernment blunders included an attempt by religious parties to shut down government websites on the Sabbath.

In neighboring Egypt, the ruling military junta chose to announce the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq via Facebook last night, rather than the traditional press conference.

But while Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians--and the rest of their Middle Eastern neighbors--are adopting Facebook for egovernment, the social media giant's eyes are still firmly on the dollars/shekels/Egyptian pounds.

Facebook just announced plans to sell users' addresses and phone numbers to third parties, a marketing decision with unclear ramifications for the volatile Middle East.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

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