The recent upsurge in the streets of the Arab world has been force-multiplied by the planned (and unplanned) use of both internet and the media, Twitter, Facebook, Al-Jazeera, CNN, etc have all chipped in. Joining the dominos Tunisia and Egypt that have fallen, Yemen, Algeria and Bahrain are tottering, Libya is now in a state of virtual civil war. After vicious “remedial” action, the King of Bahrain decided good sense was the better part of bull-headedness in calling off his troops from the streets. With his Eastern Region in protestor control, Muammar Gaddafi is behaving as the mad man that he is to hang on to his last bastion in Tripoli. US and EU leaders repeatedly cautioned the authoritarian regimes they were previously not only comfortable (but virtually in bed) with against the naked use of brute force, including fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships in Libya, against largely peaceful demonstrations. The commentators may be speaking different languages to describe the unprecedented images on TV screens, the content is the same.
How the modern revolution has been conceived, nurtured and implemented is by itself a study. To win a battle without bloodying swords” (Tsun Tse Tzu), the media (and now the internet) can be used and/or misused. Nik Gowing’s book, “Skyful of Lies and Black Swans” qualifies as a modern day primer for today’s practitioners of political science across the divide from democracy to dictatorship to understand the “new art of war”. Stephen Stern holds Nik Gowing’s analysis as daunting but completely dispelling, “Information now travels around the world so fast and in such quantities that all kinds of organisations – governments, businesses – are struggling to respond fast enough or effectively enough. As a result, there is a new vulnerability, fragility and brittleness of power which weakens both the credibility and accountability of governments, the security organs and corporate institutions. This often occurs at the height of a crisis, just when you need clarity from senior executives. No matter that the information – noise – which is being spread may be inaccurate, or only partly true. Leaders have to respond, and faster than used to be necessary. The new core challenge is the tyranny of the timeline”. Awash in money and resources and complacent about the expanse of their power, the Arab regimes were not geared to cope with the blinding speed that information dissemination played in the upheavals.
In a profound gesture of solidarity for the horrific terrorist atrocity of 9/11, the 2002 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, was held in New York. While the WALDORF was hospitable, the DAVOS nostalgia could only come back with the return of the 2003 WEF Annual Meeting to its usual “Congress Center” haunt. 2002 saw apprehensions (inspite of globalization) between communities and nations develop into suspicion. Appropriately the Theme this year was “Building Trust”. In setting the parameters for the Summit, Managing Director WEF (former President of Costa Rica) Jose Maria Figueres and Thierry Malleret, Director WEF put restoring confidence in the future as the most important leadership challenge today. Corporate leadership had to cope with the hangover from the boom years, involving managing of overcapacity, benefitting from industry consolidation and adapting to the new corporate governance standards, all this while navigating through a difficult economic and political climate.