While South Africans are not strangers to campaigning for social causes, many of us are unfamiliar with the concept of lobbying. In order to facilitate discussion around effective means of lobbying, this week, renowned academic Dr. Anas Al-Tikriti is visiting South Africa where he is conducting a series of workshops as a guest of the Afro Middle East Centre (AMEC) and Europal.
An Iraqi native, Tikriti is the former leader of the British Muslim Initiative, a successful hostage negotiator, and the CEO and Founder of the Cordoba Foundation.
Speaking to VOC’s Drivetime, Tikriti explains that as a concept exported from America, lobbying is a fairly new concept and has in recent years been adopted within European nations where people are learning what it entails. He, however, notes that in certain parts of Europe, such as France where there is no word for the act oflobbying, lobbying remains officially banned.
“I say officially banned, because there is no official word for lobby or lobbying and there are no people employed as lobbyists,” he stated.
Al-Tikriti says that while the concept is associated with negative connotations, such as embezzlement, threats, and blackmail, in reality lobbying is used in much more moral and just forms. He says that through lobbying individuals are afforded the power to affect positive change by swaying the minds of those in seats of authority.
Origins of the concept
Al-Tikriti explains that on the one hand the concept is derived from the era of president Woodrow Wilson, who while having lunch at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, would be met by individuals who wished to speak with him and would find him in the lobby of the hotel.
In Britain on the other hand, he asserts that the concept is closely associated with the area directly outside the debating chambers in both the House of Lords and House of Commons in which lobbyist await the members of parliament in order to “harass” them with their concerns.
Given the current trend of Islamophobia globally, Al-Tikriti asserts that the broader Muslim community has become fairly organized in the manner in which it campaigns.
He, however, says that lobbying is distinct from campaigning; where lobbying is a means to access those in power directly, campaigning is a means to mobilize the masses around a particular cause.
“Lobbying is about going directly to the source of power and it may be that a meeting with one person really has the influence to make the desired change,” he adds.
While lobbying it generally associated with those in seats of political power, Al-Tikriti says that every individuals lobbies in some form or another.
“My wife punished my two daughters when they did something naughty. They then both collaborated and came to my wife and said that they will be nice and not make any noise if they can watch TV, and she agreed – that was a brilliant example of lobbying.”
Lobbying for Palestine
Tikriti explains that his visit to South Africa is a means to educate the South African community on mechanism to effectively lobby around issues of concern, including the issue of Palestine.
“I think it is important for us to start our lobbying prowess on local issues, on things that impact our lives and the lives of our children. Once you do that you will realize that if it works on a local level, then why wouldn’t it work on a national level,” he elaborated.
Giving particular attention to the issue of Palestine, he asserts that lobbyists and campaigners need to be strategic in the manner in in which ideas are communicated to public officials.
“Do not assume that the official is necessarily a bad person, but have a discussion, being very clear and transparent and if you wish, firm and direct, but professional throughout,” he noted.
While it is preferable to remain non-emotive and collected, Tikriti says that it is understandable that when lobbying for causes such as the occupation of Palestine individuals show overt emotion.
He encourages those who lobby for the issue of Palestine, as well as other causes, to arm themselves with sufficient information about the issue being addressed.
“The worst case in lobbying is when the official has far more information [than the lobbyist] on the issue of Palestine.”
In light of human rights abuses enacted against Palestinians by Israel, Tikriti says that lobbying is an effective means to tilt the scales and influence those in power to advocate for the Palestinian cause.
“Its not that hard to prove the case of Palestine. We just need an effective and organized campaign where we become gradually more effective in order to match the pro-Israel lobby,” he continued.