Saturday 29 January 2011

President Mubarak wins prize for worst communicator of the week

As uncertainty grips Egypt and the world watches what will happen during this fifth day of protest, we can look back on a dismal week for Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak.

There has been much written about the impact the popular uprising will have on the Middle East and the stability of international relations. My view comes from a purely communications led perspective; in no way am I attempting to justify the dictatorship continuing.

I would summarise the five mistakes made by Mubarak as:

1. Lack of speed in his response
It took until day four of the protests for Mubarak to make a statement. This is simply not good enough. In a crisis situation the figure head of a government must be seen. Often what they say is less important than their presence on the TV screens. This communicates that they are still in power and taking the decisions.

2. Allowed a vacuum to develop 
This is intrinsically linked to number 1. By not reacting quickly a vacuum has been allowed to develop with people still wondering how this will be filled. Reports suggest that - as the violence continues - people are looking for leadership with various alternatives being suggested. Once people look elsewhere for leadership your authority is undermined.

3. The 'face' of the regime has been the riot police and now the army
When protests are about freedom and democracy, having the only pictures being beamed around the world of riot police and tanks is not exactly a great way to be seen to be reacting. Once again Mubarak's lack of speed is important here.

4. Censorship
Shutting down the internet, mobile phone networks, social media are an obvious sign of panic. This also shows a complete lack of understanding in how the modern world communicates. In a crisis situation there is a need, perhaps more than at any other time for openness and transparency. This approach showed just how out of touch Mubarak's regime is.   

5. Non-specific and vague
While the demands from the protesters are non-specific beyond calling for change. A leader needs to demonstrate action, spell out what these actions are and what they will bring to the ordinary family. When Mubarak did finally make a statement on Friday it was non specific, unresponsive and seemed to be digging in further rather than attempting to find common ground. 

All in all a case study in how not to communicate in a crisis, a bad week for Mubarak but hopefully a good one for the Egyptian people.

1 comment:

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