Is Qaddafi learning his lesson on the new tools of revolt?

Despite the best efforts of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi to prove otherwise, the tools of revolution and counter-revolution have clearly changed.

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Despite the best efforts of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, to prove otherwise, the tools of revolution and counter-revolution have clearly changed.

The man whom the former US president Ronald Reagan once called "this mad dog of the Middle East" may have scrambled his air force to put down stick-wielding protesters, but he should know by now that the media are mightier than the sword.

The Social Network, the film that tells the Facebook story, may have missed out at the Oscars, but Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's creator, must surely be aware of the impact his website has had on the Arab street and in the overthrow of regimes to which western governments had grown accustomed.

Western governments, in turn, have been embarrassed by the impressive investment portfolios built up in their countries on behalf of disgraced Arab leaders.

It has been a week of red faces. The London School of Economics, the university where Saif al Islam Qaddafi was awarded his PhD in, wait for it, democracy, is now in a bit of a pickle after admitting it accepted a US$1.5 million (Dh5.5m) donation from the Qaddafi family's charitable foundation a year after Saif al Islam graduated. Libya also has a sizeable stake in the Pearson Group, which owns Penguin Books and the Financial Times.

But even if crisis management specialists might smell blood, they would probably prefer to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in before the proverbial horse has bolted.

Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president, appears to have done just that, mobilising the best in his bid to stay ahead of the revolutionary curve.

In this month's Vogue,the socialite writer Joan Juliet Buck has produced a fawning profile of Syria's first lady, Asma al Assad, entitled "A Rose in the Desert".

After a couple of obligatory but nonetheless euphemistic references to Syria's "shadow zones", Ms Buck quickly moves through the gears, painting a masterful portrait of the English-educated Mrs Assad, who grew up among the Syrian elite and quit her job as a banking whizz to get married before bonus time.

"Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: 'I was, like…'."

Her husband Bashar's regime is still a suspect in the 2005 murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and while Ms Buck does reveal that the US state department's website says "the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors", that information is presented in the context of safety rather than repression.

Meanwhile, readers are told of sightseeing trips the Assads took with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when the Hollywood couple visited Syria in 2009 on behalf of the UN (celebrities and the world body are 24-carat endorsements). As Pitt nervously points out the absence of a security detail, the Assads in the front of the vehicle poke fun at the Middle East neophyte's anxiety. Bashar himself is of course just a regular guy on whose iMac his seven-year-old daughter watches Tim Burton'sAlice in Wonderland.

As of 2007, Tim Bell and Associates were understood to have been handling the Assads' public relations, and it is likely that Lord Bell, or someone of his calibre, was retained in this instance. It is the second time that the regime has gone on the charm offensive.

In January, when unrest was building in the Arab world, the president gave a rare interview to The New York Times in which he talked about the need for regional governments to "upgrade". Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, clearly takes longer to mobilise, but her magazine's piece is impressive stuff nonetheless.

The Lebanese, with their own brand of black humour, will see the funny side of the Vogue article, especially the bit where it says that Syria is "a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings".

Still, the Lebanese also have their own business to attend to, and at a time when travellers are giving the Middle East a wide berth, Lebanon has done what it does best and launched yet another tourism campaign, this time with the intriguing title of "Lebanon Blues".

Now call me a traditionalist, but to use "blues" with anything and try to make it uplifting, let alone sellable, is brave. But apparently there is method to this Levantine madness. The campaign's creators, the ad agency Impact BBDO, explained at a news conference last week the idea was that Lebanon was the perfect antidote for the blues. I know … me too.

With such outside-the-box thinking, is there any wonder that the running gag in Beirut is that Lebanon, a byword for chaos for so much of past 40 years, is probably the most stable country in the region.

But while Merrill Lynch this week predicted 6 per cent growth this year, we Lebanese know deep down that all is far from well and that the only reason Lebanon is still in one piece is that revolution needs consensus, something that is always at a premium in this town.

A Michael Karam is a publishing and communication consultant based in Beirut