Wharton’s Stuart Diamond: Arab Spring Needs to Spring into Action

Stuart Diamond has taught a popular negotiations course at The Wharton School for almost 20 years, and consulted and taught in 45 countries. That includes teaching negotiations in Saudi Arabia, providing assistance to the Kuwaiti Government in reorganizing after the first Gulf War, and advising the pharmaceutical industry and many other sectors in Jordan on economic development. He also has advised the Arab Students Club at Wharton.

Diamond’s new book, Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World, provides a process of interaction that enables people to be more successful in business and in their personal lives. It is a New York Times bestseller and is the #1 recommended book "to read for your career" in 2011 according to the Wall Street Journal’s FINS blog. The book’s negotiation process focuses on perceptions, emotions and relationships rather than power, threats and rationality. It was used to solve the 2008 Writers Guild strike in Hollywood.

Diamond holds a law degree from Harvard, an MBA from Wharton and in a previous career was a reporter for The New York Times, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. His website is www.gettingmore.com.

In a follow-up interview, Diamond provides Arabic Knowledge@Wharton further analysis of the Arab Spring. (Read his earlier interview with Arabic Knowledge@Wharton on the topic.) One reason why idealistic reform has given way to violence throughout the region, he says, is because of dashed expectations. Another is the emphasis on past grievances: Putting Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak on trial, he says, is the wrong way to start rebuilding Egypt. And Libya, he adds, "is perhaps the best example today of the stupidity of not negotiating."

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: What’s gone wrong with the Arab Spring? It was supposed to be a youth-led revolutionary change, filled with idealism and hope. Why has it become so violent?

Stuart Diamond: Entrepreneurs know that the idea is just the start; without building out an enterprise, no value is created. This is the problem with the Arab Spring. Now that many have more power, they actually have to do the hard work to build out a different sort of economy: fairer, self-sustaining, and competitive. Not much evidence has emerged, however, that the needed organizations and processes are being put in place. A big cause of emotions, which can lead to violence, is dashed expectations. Could it be that the idealistic youths who spurred revolutions thought that economic success and the infrastructure of a better society would just spring from whole cloth without a lot of further effort?

To turn the Arab spring into Arab summer, the new revolutionaries are going to need to get the skills necessary, and have the discipline necessary, to build positive institutions. Violence is just a tearing down, a cop out, and a postponement, in doing the necessary work.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: How can people who wanted change still extract some reform without engendering/suffering further violence?

Diamond: Start small, be incremental. The problems faced by Middle Eastern societies took tens, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years to get to this point. They are not going to all be solved at once. The technology industry worldwide has learned to start small and scale up; the social and political sectors should learn this too.

Pick a sector where a country has or could have a competitive advantage. Start building competitiveness in that area. Scale up from there: whether pharmaceuticals, minerals, fish farming or other labor-intensive sectors. Get some decent schools or outside experts to teach business and technical skills. Once again, this requires sustained focus and patience. I am sure that each country has a nucleus of skilled, experienced people, either in country or who could be enticed to help from afar: with resources or knowledge.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Similarly, how can Arab leadership allow for changes without having resorting to heavy-handed measures?

Diamond: If the steps are incremental, the leadership is more likely to go along with them. Almost every Arab leader, Syria included, wants economic progress. Some would even cede to a more open political system as long it was not all at once and the current leaders’ personal safety or resources were not jeopardized.

As such, if there was a collaborative effort between the proponents of the old and the new, progress could be made without bloodshed. The Arab Spring efforts have succeeded in getting the attention of Arab leaders. They are now listening. Violence has sprung up because protestors, frustrated over the past or the pace of change, have demanded quick and radical change. But leaders of the country’s involved have most of the military resources. It makes no sense to fight these resources on a military basis when most of the leaders are actually willing to talk to the insurgents about more gradual changes.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: What’s your perspective on the Hosni Mubarak trial? What’s to be gained from this? What should Egyptians want from this trial? Will it result in catharsis for Egypt, or more violence?

Diamond: The Mubarak trial reflects exactly the wrong way to go about building a new Egypt. First, it seeks to assign blame for the past. To the extent that people focus on punishment for the past, they don’t focus on building value for the future. A trial for Mubarak cannot help the young Egyptians build a new Egypt; it can only waste their time by distracting them from the task ahead.

Second, the Mubarak trial shows a lack of focus on goals. Egypt needs resources for change. According to one study in Egypt, Mubarak embezzled 85% of the more than US$60 billion in U.S. aid that Egypt has gotten over the years. So, if the young Egyptians were interested in meeting their goals, they would instead trade Mubarak his freedom for money. Example: "US$50 billion and you’re a free man." Negotiate with him on what he and others in his circle will provide. Leave them with something to get them to agree. Now that would better help in building a new Egypt than a trial of a sick old man.

The question above suggests that the trial might be needed as a kind of "catharsis." Well, one can’t eat catharsis. Catharsis doesn’t contain medicine, education and housing. A catharsis is full of emotion. And emotion distracts people from their goals. Emotion is a big problem in human interactions, whether in Egypt or in the U.S. with the debt crisis. I know it’s tough to say this, but if you want catharsis, see a psychiatrist. Meanwhile, get the money, focus on the future, and build a better life for yourselves, your country, your friends and your children.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Is there validity to Assad’s strategy in Syria? Was it reinforced by the success of Bahrain’s action against Shiites?

Diamond: The "strategy" that some say is being pursued is that the ruling party gives a little bit to the opposition while preserving the status quo. Opposition leaders have refused to negotiate in Syria on those grounds, and have pulled out of talks in Bahrain.

The problem with pulling out of talks is that the only alternative is usually violence. And there is almost no chance then of a peaceful agreement and positive change. At least when one is talking, there can be incremental improvement. And there are ways to frame the discussion so that there is a lot of pressure for reforms. Besides this, by walking out of talks, the opposition has not yet tested how far they can move the ruling party by peaceful means in, say a year or two.

Mahatma Gandhi gained independence for India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, without ever raising his voice or a weapon. He just kept all the focus on the atrocities of the British until Britain could not withstand world criticism. This is a good model for opponents in both Syria and Bahrain. One cannot gain the needed legitimacy by stooping to the level of the other party. The Syrian government is already under sharp criticism from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain for what the Saudis called a "killing machine."

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. It will bring the government down, or at least bring it to the negotiating table ready to make more concessions.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: What happens to the countries that endured civil violence because of the Arab Spring? How do parties get back to the table and push development? Where should they begin?

Diamond: They begin by contacting the other party and saying, "let’s talk." Good negotiators have a firm grasp of the obvious. The best way to start talking is to start talking. Again, whatever happened yesterday is gone. My question to each side would be, "You can’t fix yesterday. Do you want to fix tomorrow or what?"

Each party may need to set up an initial meeting through an intermediary, or third party, if emotions are running too high. The point is to get started. Start small, get to know the other party, find out if there are some common goals or needs, find out what they can trade off, and proceed incrementally.

It is not rocket science. But so few people do it because they are so emotional they take their eye off the ball. It’s like saying, "I’m so mad at you, I think I’ll burn my house down!" Sounds ridiculous, but that’s what parties do when they get so emotional they lose sight of their goals. Their goal is to stop the killing and get enough resources to start development for tomorrow.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: How do you evaluate Saudi Arabia’s response to the Arab Spring — did they show effective use of power and influence in warding off any uprising in the Gulf?

Diamond: The Saudis displayed an outstanding use of effective negotiation tools. They understood that for many people, it was about Maslow’s needs triangle: that is, basic life necessities such as food, shelter and health mattered most. So the stipends that the Saudi government gave helped to quell disturbances.

Of course, the Saudi ruling family can afford to buy off the rank-and-file. But what they have mostly bought was time. For now, the populace will be satisfied with their recent bonuses. But that does not amount to structural and sustainable change, the kind that would significantly improve everyone’s quality of life on a continuing basis. The Saudi government should take this opportunity to include more people in decision-making and develop new industries that give more people a chance at a better life over the long term.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Libya is in a stalemate; what negotiation do you foresee to end the conflict? After the money spent on attacking the Qaddafi regime, can the world allow him to leave Libya freely, or remain in some power?

Diamond: Libya is perhaps the best example today of the stupidity of not negotiating. Instead of talking to Qadaffi at the start about a gradual sharing of power, NATO and the U.S. have spent billions of dollars bombing him and supporting the rebels. An expensive stalemate was the inevitable result of this, and I said it at the time.

The lesson of Uganda should have been ringing in the ears of Qadaffi’s enemies. Thirty years ago Idi Amin was gotten out of power not by force or sanctions, but by the Saudis offering him a few million dollars and a villa there. Qadaffi has made a lot of noises about wanting to negotiate; they have all been rebuffed. 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.

It is hard to imagine a clearer case of poor negotiating on the world stage. Here, the leader of a country repeatedly has said he is willing to discuss getting out, and his opponents would rather fight a debilitating, expensive war that provides no value for its citizens. And they are supported by major industrial countries whose leadership should know better.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: You’re a foreign business with operations in the Middle East, in Egypt and in the Gulf. What are you asking for from your suppliers and creditors? What would your goal be?

Diamond: My goal would be to avoid instability that risks hurting my business. I would want to locate, or relocate, in the countries that seem more stable than others. Meaning I would want out of Egypt; I wouldn’t dream of going to or staying in Libya or Syria, and I would shy away from any Middle Eastern country where there were protests and instability. That includes Israel, with its internal marches and its continuing unsuccessful negotiations with the Palestinians. The Israelis won’t like this statement, but good negotiators know that if a deal fails, they always blame themselves as opposed to other people. As in, what could I have done differently?

Countries or cities that make sense for foreign business are Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Jordan and Morocco, which have shown an understanding of what it takes to support foreign business. The proponents of violence need to get it through their heads that it may feel good and it may look good on television, but civil war scares away the people with the money. And one of the major ingredients needed to turn Arab Spring into Arab Summer is money.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: Is there an opportunity for the US to intervene in any of the countries experiencing violence as a negotiator?

Diamond: Yes. The U.S. could provide the skills necessary for the young idealistic Arabs to transform their societies. This would include a mediation-like role, helping each side with the transition: the entrenched politicians of yesterday and the new leaders of tomorrow.

The mixes of skills needed are more complex and subtle than most people realize. They include negotiation, management, leadership, organizational design, legal (including corporate governance), finance and specific experience in the sectors of opportunity.

I am not suggesting that this expertise be provided for free; everyone knows that the U.S. no longer has the money. But for equity and profit sharing, plenty of foreign entities would be willing to step up and help expand the Middle East’s economic success. This includes places in the Middle East that have more skills, as well as successful foreign venues such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany.

To get this process started, someone in a leadership position in a young Arab Spring organization needs to pick up the phone, call a contact in a successful Arab or non-Arab venue and say, "Hi, can you help?"

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Wharton’s Stuart Diamond: Arab Spring Needs to Spring into Action. Knowledge@Wharton (2011, August 16). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/whartons-stuart-diamond-arab-spring-needs-to-spring-into-action/

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