The historic popular uprisings that are sweeping the Muslim world, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya, spreading to Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, even Iran and throughout the Middle East may contain lessons for businesses. Why are people who've been oppressed for decades--centuries really--suddenly rising up throughout the region? Here's my take:
- People have unprecedented access to information; their governments aren't able to control it.
When a vegetable vendor in Tunisia had had enough of getting shaken down by a local government official, and set himself on fire in the street, the news and videos spread like wildfire throughout the region. People everywhere could see for themselves that other people like them were standing up to their government.
- People have unprecedented ability to communicate with each other.
They know that others share their feelings, frustrations, aspirations. I'll let Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky work out how much of the credit goes to social media and how much goes to the more familiar tools of popular uprisings, but there's little doubt that social media tools were part of a fabric of communication tools that were essential to the political tsunami that is sweeping the region.
- In particular, people talk openly about government injustices
How many times do you suppose people throughout the Muslim world have repeated the story of what drove the Tunisian vendor over the edge? How many then related a similar story of their own, relative to their own oppressions from their own governments?
- People learn they have options.
That's the hallmark of freedom, and it looks like Jefferson was right, its appeal is universal*, despite those who insist that freedom isn't appropriate or even desired by come cultures, that for us to be in favor of such a thing is "imposing our culture on them." I've had this conversation with a former Exxon executive and an American lawyer who's worked for years for a Saudi prince--both thought that the people there were content with their monarchs and dictators.
I'll talk about lessons here for business, in my next post.
*(Biggest exception I can think of: Russia. Folks there do seem to be mostly content with their inron fisted dictators.)