Jumping in to the media fray on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department launched a new, all-Arabic Twitter feed with the handle USAbilAraby (translation: USA in Arabic). The Washington Post notes that the feed, though, almost misses the mark by using Modern Standard Arabic--a formal type of Arabic used in the media and the Koran--instead of the looser tone that's taking over social media and thus might be more appropriate for Twitter.
But the real question on the feed is this: why now? Quick answer: Egypt. This is the way revolutions now work.
According to an early tweet, Foggy Bottom's plunge into the Twitterverse took place because "the US foreign ministry has recognized the historic role of social media in the Arab world and we want to be part of your conversations."
Later tweets said the US was taking a hands-off approach to Egpyt, that President Obama says the country's future will be determined by Egyptians, and that VP Joe Biden "has demanded Egypt immediately stop harassing journalists and scrap its emergency law."
Although the State Department tweets in Arabic, it does respond in English: Arab journalist Dima Khatib thought the department was relying on Google Translate for its tweets, but State assured her they've got their own people behind the scenes.
As for immediate responses: Journalist Antony Lowenstein tweeted "US State Department starts tweeting in Arabic. Yes, this will make Muslims forget about backing autocrats." Khatib's tweet was equally harsh, saying, "The US State Department cares a lot about the Egyptian constitution. I mean now. Because for 30 years it did not bother."
That those eager to understand the State Department's feed will also be amused to note, as Andrew Exum does on Twitter today, that the Hans Wehr dictionary--beloved and hated by all weary Arabic students--also has a Twitter feed. Today's posts include the Arabic term for upheaval/ overthrow/ coup d'etat.