Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Consumer-Citizens of the World Really Want: The Egyptian Lesson

by Thomas Hinton

It’s both disturbing and encouraging to see the strife taking place in Egypt and Tunisia. In America, we take for granted so many of our basic rights and entitlements that are causing millions of citizens to take to the streets in protest of the policies of their authoritarian governments. It’s disturbing because the very rights and opportunities these people are demanding are basic economic building blocks that every citizen should enjoy regardless of where they live or the religion they practice – freedom of speech, the opportunity to live in an economic environment that offers hope for a better life, and the right to assemble without being shot or attacked by armed thugs operating under the guise of self-serving politicians.

What is playing out in Egypt and Tunisia is also encouraging because the voice of the people is finally being heard. And, it is being heard not only in the streets, but within the inner sanctums of every repressive government around the world.

Some commentators have suggested the Arab uprisings are being fueled by fanatics and religious extremists. There’s little, if any, evidence to support such claims. I believe these protests are the result of frustrated consumers who see unlimited economic opportunities in neighboring countries and throughout western societies. Unfulfilled, exasperated and without any chance to climb the economic ladder of success, these well-intentioned protesters are asking a basic human question of their tyrannical leaders: “Why can’t we enjoy the good life?” Not only is it a fair question, but one that every government should respond to or face defeat. But, governments that exploit their citizenry don’t believe they need to answer such questions because they are not in the business of lifting-up the masses. They’re in the business of suppressing human and economic rights and controlling citizens in brutal fashion.

This is why leaders like ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak do not remain in power. People will only tolerate so much before they take to the streets. What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia are consumer-citizens demanding the same economic opportunities afforded to a handful of people in their country and the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Certainly, that is a fair demand.

No nation’s leadership can suppress the population forever and outlast the will of its people. This is why I believe there is still great economic hope for the people of Iran, North Korea, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, China, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As we have seen in Egypt, it only takes a few thousand people to ignite the flames of economic freedom and bring about significant constitutional change as well as new political leadership.

In this era of social networking and instant global communication, it’s not surprising that on a Friday afternoon, a handful of well-intentioned thought leaders tweet or Facebook their friends to rally in the main square and, by Sunday afternoon, ministers are resigning and corrupt leaders are making plans to flee the country.

Frankly, it’s consumerism at its best!

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 107,000 members. He can be reached at