When protestors first took to the streets across the Middle East earlier this year, the world watched as thousands of Arabs demanded an end to governments that were corrupt and self serving. Dubbed the “Arab Spring,” it was a movement propelled by technology and imbued with optimism for change toward a more equitable economy.
After the initial blush with relatively peaceful demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, the social revolution has led to strife rather than reform, as Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt have all witnessed bloody protests, while Syria and Libya have been plunged into all-out civil war. Much of the violent turn of events, according to Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Stuart Diamond, is the result of dashed expectations.
“Entrepreneurs know that the idea is just the start; without building out an enterprise, no value is created,” Diamond, who teaches negotiation courses at Wharton and is the author of “Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World,” told Arabic Knowledge@Wharton. “This is the problem with the Arab Spring. Now that many [people] have more power, they actually have to do the hard work to build out a different sort of economy.”
Another failing of the movement is the emphasis on past grievances: Putting Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak on trial, Diamond noted, is the wrong way to start rebuilding Egypt. “Negotiate with him on what he and others in his circle will provide,” he suggested. “Leave them with something to get them to agree. Now that would better help in building a new Egypt than the trial of a sick old man.”
For those challenging leadership, such as protestors in Syria, the best thing would be to avoid confrontation, he added. “If Syrian protestors stop the violence, all the negative focus will be on the existing government, which will not be able to withstand the continuing criticism. The goal of the protestors now should be to document everything and keep telling the world.”
According to Diamond, the situation in Libya “is perhaps the best example today of the stupidity of not negotiating.… Libya will never be able to provide a better life for its citizens until the war stops. And the quickest way to do that is negotiate with Qaddafi.”