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  • The Evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Arab Spring
  • Jeffrey Avina (bio)

The Arab Spring has presented great challenges and opportunities throughout the region. New models of political participation, power-sharing, and evolving forms of social consensus dominate the landscape region-wide. The Arab Spring has also affected popular culture in significant ways which portend even greater social and relational evolution. As noted by a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report, “Although not all the region’s countries have experienced political or economic transition, recent events have accelerated changes in public sentiment, raised levels of engagement and heightened expectations region wide.”1

Few doubt that two of the principle causes of the Arab Spring were non-inclusive economic growth and a longing for freedom. According to the Tunisian minister of foreign affairs Rafik Ben Abdessalem:

What happened in the region is a real wave of political change and you cannot escape it. That does not mean there will be revolutions everywhere, but, it shows a political change that reflects the aspirations of people for freedom. It reflects also their socioeconomic marginalization. As such, it is not just a Tunisian or Egyptian phenomenon. It is a regional phenomenon.2

Gallup research, even before the Arab Spring, indicated that the thing most admired in the region about the West was freedom and democracy. According to Dahlia Mogahed, executive director and senior analyst from Gallup, “When people were asked what they would include in a new constitution pre-Arab Spring the response was freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom in all senses.”3

On the economic front, Ms. Mogahed added, “Whether people support liberals or Islamists, the priorities are the same thing; jobs, economic development and education.”4 This is no great surprise. A 2011 International Labor Organization (ILO) [End Page 77] report showed that youth unemployment in the region was over 26%, the highest of any region in the world and more than twice the international average. Varying estimates state that the region requires between 60–80 million new jobs over the coming decade just to keep pace with population growth.

The Arab Spring has also clearly affected the business environment. This includes the way that companies are seen in the region and, more importantly, the way they are expected to behave. In the wake of the Arab Spring, many businesses have been scrutinized and criticized for their long-term relations with traditional regimes. This does not necessarily imply that all prior business practices were inappropriate. More often than not, they reflected standard business engagements with influential decision-makers, which in the Arab region have, until recently, had remarkable longevity. Those decision-makers in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, however, are long gone and, in places such as Jordan, Yemen, and Morocco, may no longer hold sway.

In the subsequent popular wave of questioning and clamor for change, some companies have had to struggle to distance themselves from such associations. Egyptian mobile phone companies and internet service providers (ISPs), for example, suffered a negative backlash after agreeing to a government request to black out communication channels during the early days of the revolution. Perhaps in response, the three main mobile and ISP operators in Egypt announced community-oriented initiatives after the revolution was completed. Also, some national companies whose businesses were over-zealously tied to their association with prior ruling elites have fallen.5 In some instances, their owners have fled, been jailed, or placed on trial.

Larger multi-nationals have, for the most part, weathered the transition without direct political fallout. Many companies, however, have suffered revenue decline related to unstable market conditions and lost contracts which have accompanied the Arab Spring. As a result, some have begun to rethink their approach in the region. In reality, the entire business model which drove most business engagement in the Arab Spring region has been inverted. The Arab Spring has seen the rise of social movements which now affect the future of small and large business alike in that these movements impact societal values and, ultimately, potential consumer patterns. Given the rising clout of citizens as influencers and their clamor for augmented transparency, companies are keen to ensure their...


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pp. 77-92
Launched on MUSE
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