Monday, February 14, 2011

Could Possessing Charisma Have Saved Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?

For all his personal traits, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was not given the sobriquet “Mr. Charisma” by the world community. Very little is known about Mubarak and he seemed to have played an insignificant role in African-Middle Eastern politics. That is at least the impression. However, in all fairness, very few world leaders actually fit the prerequisite characteristics for being labeled “charismatic”. Such characteristics typically entail highly evolved communication skills, a compelling vision for a populace and the ability to continuously reinvent oneself based on the needs of the situation. But, can charisma assist leaders from being ousted from a position without overwhelming backlash from supporters? Specifically, could charisma have helped President Mubarak thwart an ignoble end to a 30 year reign? Although, there are many Mubarak supporters who view his downfall as devolutionary to Egyptian glory, the rippling effects of his departure will not be felt as would be the case of a Fidel Castro. Since 1959, Fidel Castro has been a stalwart for revolutionary politics that has caused fellow Cubans to either love or revile him. Even non-Cubans have an impression of Castro. Not so with Mubarak. To the world, Mubarak did not possess a preternatural charm nor serve as a visionary for Egyptian greatness. Reports suggest that Mubarak has in his coffers $40-$70 billion. This amount is not a vindication of his political prowess as much as another example of governmental greed and megalomania. To this extent, Mubarak is more of the same; denigrating the will of the people for personal gain under the guise of democracy.

But, could charisma have saved him? The answer is yes and no. Within the thirty years of his reign, if Mubarak had laid out a compelling vision for Egypt, either being a global leader in a particular industry, a destination spot for advanced education or an economic behemoth comparable to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, he could have survived. Citizens will allow a certain amount of graft and naked aggression, when they are prosperous and optimistic. Inherently, they understand the nature of politics is rooted in political and economic self-interest. It is a naïve citizenry that believes in the altruism and magnanimity of politicians after centuries of historical accounts demonstrating the contrary. However, the politics of the world has changed where the citizenry and the politician must benefit equally, but the politician must appear subservient to the needs of the citizenry. To this extent, Mubarak was out of step with the zeitgeist of a digital world. In contemporary times, a political leader cannot afford to be greedy, unimaginable and exposed.

On the other hand, no amount of charisma can save a leader who has outlived his usefulness. Charismatic leadership is transitory for situations needing an infusion of innovation. Because the charismatic leader is a crusader for a cause, once the goal has been achieved, he either needs another challenge to overcome or an effective successor for the completed task. The long term success of a leader hinges on his ability to consistently satisfy the immediate and most relevant needs of the populace. A string of past successes are unimportant when critical needs go unaddressed. Charisma cannot fill the gap of unfulfilled needs no matter how likable the leader.

In the end, Mubarak broke all the implied rules for maintaining power. He was not prescient in determining the future needs of the Egyptian citizenry. If he had infused the Egyptian government with new faces and ideas, created political enclaves that played off each other, and encouraged Egypt to be a bigger player in the global economy, he could have maintained power under the guise of democracy. Even if Mubarak did not have a compelling vision for Egypt’s future, he could have placed talented individuals in position and ruled by proxy. Instead, his house of cards fell, because he neither possessed the charisma or savvy to operate in a world where illusions still matter.

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