With the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, we now enter the dangerous “Thermidor” phase of the historic socio-political revolution begun in North Africa and Egypt, a revolt that is energizing citizens – especially young citizens – in other autocratic nations as well.
“Thermidor” is the time when a revolution can swerve toward unintended consequences (*Note see full description below). But there is good news: It now presents epic opportunities for the United States and other Western nations to share their powerful democratic values and economic development with people and governments in countries now “in play.”
The international business community and the global civil society – virtually ignored in the current torrent of news and commentary – can be among the most effective carriers of these antidotes to national repression and corruption.
Some testimony: Reflect on how Middle East expert Vali Nasr recently positioned the existential issue sometimes called “Islam and the West”:
“…[T]here is a vital but unseen force rising in the Islamic world – a new business-minded middle class – that is building a vibrant Muslim economy … their distinct blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing lasting reform and to defeating fundamentalism … They are the people the West can and must do business with.”
I’ve seen this coalescence in traveling the world for the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. It is apparent in predominantly Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia but especially so in Turkey.
Much has been reported, rightfully, about how social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al. – have been used to organize, stimulate and sustain the popular uprisings. (In this context, the Heisenberg Principle in physics – observing an element can alter it – applies to the role of the new media and to traditional media such as Al Jazeera, especially since they also communicated the events so courageously and dramatically).
David Holdridge has linked two seminal elements of these historic events – social networking and the brave, vigorous leadership of a younger generation:
“Sovereignty is not what it used to be … Now the technologies and a youth fed up with war and despair are silently, but inexorably, creating a union … They are, in historic proportions, going online. They are accelerating the great trade in ideas over the World Wide Web.”
Holdridge is the CEO of the international civil society organization Bridging The Divide, Inc.,which links citizen groups in the United States with counterparts in the Middle East, applying social media in a variety of social services and development missions.
The Business-Civil Society Interface
En route to Cairo, Holdridge e-mailed: “I think we both agree that we are in a period of transformation … and that the road ahead will be fraught with danger and opportunity. …[W]e can, at a minimum, act as an early warning/advisory system for investors in this transitional environment and as an advocate before the government for policy appropriate to the new dynamic.”
The global business community and civil society also converge in the über-global civil society institution, the United Nations. Perhaps the most relevant U.N. agency is the United Nations Global Compact, composed of some 4,000 companies and about 1,000 non-governmental organizations around the world. For example, the Compact’s Human Rights Working Group recently endorsed policy on “how business and human rights should best be taken forward in coming years … engaging all stakeholders.”
The highly interconnected global business community has the resources and the opportunity to initiate and manage programs that can undermine repression and corruption, contribute to the introduction of democratic values and help improve standards of living and quality of life in the nations now undergoing reformation. For example, the successful “Arab & American Business Fellowship” international exchange of young business leaders (a program, unfortunately, now dormant), should be replicated many times over.
It would be foolish to try to predict how Tunisia and Egypt will traverse “Thermidor,” let alone how these revolutions will affect neighboring countries in North Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.
But at this generational inflection point, one forecast seems safe: It is that long-term, a 21st Century Beatitude – “Blessed are the young for they shall possess the land” – now seems beyond questioning.
(In “The Anatomy of Revolution” (New York, Vintage Books, revised edition 1965) Crane Brinton, having studied the British, American, French and Russian revolutions, described “Thermidor” and summarized the revolutionary process with this eerily-prophetic flow: “… revolutionary demands on the part of [the] organized discontented, demands, which if granted would mean the virtual abdication of those governing, attempted use of force by the government, its failure, and the attainment of power by the revolutionists...”)
John Paluszek is senior counsel at Ketchum and chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.