It was John Lennon who sang: You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world.

There’s no doubt the world has changed in the Middle East, perhaps fundamentally. People are saying there was a time before Tunisia, and now a time after Tunisia.

In other words, the peaceful revolution that provoked Tunisia’s leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to throw in the towel and flee to Saudi Arabia has changed everything in the region. Only Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have escaped any kind of protest, which perhaps indicates that it is a question of good governance and not just a quest for democracy that counts (obviously large oil or gas wealth also helps). Whatever new form of government emerges in Egypt, Tunisia and even perhaps Libya, they will still face the fundamental dilemma that is troubling elected governments from the Americas to Asia: how to create growth and jobs. Sclerotic Europe, particularly in the south, the so-called ‘Siesta States’ such as Portugal, Greece and Spain, are finding this an almost insolvable problem.

In the Middle East, the demographics are especially bad. It is all very well having a swelling population, well educated with a median age of 25, but how are they to earn a living?

Recovering some of their leaders’ stolen assets will help, as will clamping down on corruption and liberalising the economy, although even this may not be enough as Ireland has shown. Once a Celtic Tiger, the Irish eyes are no longer smiling, saddled with enormous debts and stuck with an overvalued currency. Still at least there was a one-day victory in the cricket against the English to delight them and also us watching and laughing Australians.

But as we watch these new forces play out, there is a dilemma for public relations consultants. Should we abandon some clients on the grounds that they are allied to unpopular regimes? Some firms are adamant that everyone deserves representation, just as even a murderer should be represented by a lawyer in court.

Our position is quite clear. Our reputation is as important as our clients.

In other words, we should do everything to preserve it, and if that involves telling a potential new client that we are unable to represent them, then we shall do so. We have seen how easy it is business to tarnish an otherwise spotless reputation, and how difficult it can be to recover. Take McKinsey for example. The blue-chip consulting firm is reeling from accusations that senior
management betrayed Goldman Sachs’ secrets.

Can it recover? It will certainly need a change of leadership, direction and time.

Revolutionary or not, leaders need the trust of their people or they are lost.

**UPDATE: We’ve just read this very timely & relevant article from @ben_flanagan from @thenationaluae