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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Second chances are sometimes possible

Question: Put yourself in the shoes of an autocratic Middle Eastern leader: Let peaceful protests continue and you could easily wind up out of power, like Egypt's Mubarak. Or get tough with the protests and you'll certainly lose popular and international support. What's the best strategy for holding onto power without harming the country?

Any government head who allows the national situation to deteriorate to the point of street protests isn't worthy of the title "leader." People demonstrate in public usually as a last resort; they're tired of seeing their wishes denied and their grievances ignored. Such protests reflect the fact that their so-called leader has failed in fulfilling some of the basic functions of leadership: listening to citizens, working to solve their problems, showing them that their lives matter, providing inspiration.

The irony is that people in general are hungry to be led. They want to put able to put their faith in leaders who are essentially ethical, competent and compassionate. That's not to say leaders are expected to be perfect. On the contrary; most people realize that their leaders are human beings capable of mistakes. These mistakes, when they occur, can be forgiven if leaders acknowledge them with truth and humility. But in some cases, as in the 30-year tenure of Hosni Mubarak, the track record of offenses is too long to be forgiven, no matter how contrite the head of the government may appear.

In other cases, though, leaders can hold onto their seats of power when faced with public anger. They can admit to their mistakes and articulate what they will do to bring improvements. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi became unpopular and was voted out office in the 1970s after she had declared a state of emergency that included censorship and a strengthening of police power. She was able to regain her office after a re-election campaign in which she apologized for the missteps of her previous administration. For some embattled leaders, second chances are possible.

By Yash Gupta

 |  February 22, 2011; 10:22 AM ET
Category:  Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What you get when you give power away | Next: The compulsion to stay in power

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i would wipe out the indigenous population and place the remnants of them on reservations... then i would enslave whatever "races" required to build monuments to the great racists of my race... then i would free the slaves except abide by policies that keep them - except for a token few - in obviously subservient positions (of course the tokens would serve my agenda - which i and my media would never refer to as "racist"...)...

I would create the illusion of "equal protection" under law - except that “When the custody of children [or anything else I decide...] is the question … the best interest of the children [or some other interest of my choosing...] {shall be} the paramount fact. [Constitutional and inalienable] rights of father and mother [or whatever class of citizens i declare...] sink into insignificance before that.” Kartman v. Kartman, 163 Md. 19, 22,161 A. 269 (1932) - the names of the cases would be subject to the victims that come before my court...

in short, i would run my nation so that it appears to provide "freedom", balance of political powers, and "justice" except that only the wealthy of my race would enjoy freedom - so long as they 'served both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for the members of my race.'

I would do what "white" Americans do!

e.g.,
I would ensure that "black" women and girls feel better about themselves whenever they abandon loving the natural texture of thier own hair and instead straighten it to appear more "white" American - like the First Lady and her children: Sasha and Malia (all in the best interest of the children of course)

Second chances are sometimes possible - but Sasha and Malia have little chance of ever being encouraged to experience the free and natural love and affection they would have for the natural texture of their own hair - especially while they reside in the White House.

Good thing "whites" and Gupta don't have to concern themselves about such things

Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:55 AM
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I disagree that street protests are a sign of a terminal condition to the administration. If this were true, we would not have had a president finish his first term since I don't know whom. Street protests are a critical part of the democratic dialogue and certainly serve as a venting mechanism in a healthy society.
The difficulty in the Mideast is that repression seems to be the common denominator in what were the 'stable' countries of two months ago. They are each a unique situation but can be generally divided into the 'royals' and the 'totalitarians'. The primary difference is that the royals have some semblance of legitimacy, if dated, while the others have relied more openly on force.
It is likely that the royals will outlast the totalitarians but it will not be for long. The billions that the Saudi king just provided for reform is a major concession, truly empowering the powerless. Much like the history of the English Parliment, such concessions are non-refundable and will be built upon.
For dictators such as Gadhafi and Mubarak, their time has come. They squandered decades and vast wealth while doing nothing for the class they kept in poverty. They had ample opportunities, and wealth, to truly lead, re-establish Arab culture as one of the pillars of Western learning, and they flat out failed.
Most troubling is that their elimination really does provide an opening for fundamentalism.
In the past, our counter would have been to support the next strongman. I do hope we have learned enough to just support efforts to elevate the lives of various peoples and stay out of the internal politics. The best defense against fundamentalism is a happy and prosperous middle class and universal education.

Posted by: stephenmahoney73 | February 26, 2011 11:38 AM
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The protests in Egypt and subsequent resignation of President Mubarak make it clear that even under autocratic rule, the public has some control over who is in charge. Therefore, for a leader to stay in power, it is crucial that he or she maintain the trust of his people. Breaking this trust can lead to dire consequences. Besides the current situation in Egypt, another famous example of betrayal of public trust is Julius Caesar, who was perceived as power-hungry and attempting to destroy the Republic in favor of a monarchy.
Dr. Gupta was right to say that second chances are possible only in certain situations. In cases like Caesar's, the severity of the crime ensured that he would not even be given the chance to defend or explain himself. He was assassinated immediately by Roman Senators. For Indira Gandhi it was a different story.
What does this tell us? That the way for a leader to stay in power without harming his people is to keep them happy. Violence and oppression will only get a leader removed in disgrace. If instead a leader chooses to be honest with the public, as Indira Gandhi was, then even mistakes are forgivable, and a leader can continue to govern. In that case, there is no best strategy for staying in power in the Middle East, not if the damage is already done.

Posted by: njain31 | February 25, 2011 12:08 PM
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The protests in Egypt and subsequent resignation of President Mubarak make it clear that even under autocratic rule, the public has some control over who is in charge. Therefore, for a leader to stay in power, it is crucial that he or she maintain the trust of his people. Breaking this trust can lead to dire consequences. Besides the current situation in Egypt, another famous example of betrayal of public trust is Julius Caesar, who was perceived as power-hungry and attempting to destroy the Republic in favor of a monarchy.
Dr. Gupta was right to say that second chances are possible only in certain situations. In cases like Caesar's, the severity of the crime ensured that he would not even be given the chance to defend or explain himself. He was assassinated immediately by Roman Senators. For Indira Gandhi it was a different story.
What does this tell us? That the way for a leader to stay in power without harming his people is to keep them happy. Violence and oppression will only get a leader removed in disgrace. If instead a leader chooses to be honest with the public, as Indira Gandhi was, then even mistakes are forgivable, and a leader can continue to govern. In that case, there is no best strategy for staying in power in the Middle East, not if the damage is already done.

Posted by: njain31 | February 25, 2011 12:05 PM
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The protests in Egypt and subsequent resignation of President Mubarak make it clear that even under autocratic rule, the public has some control over who is in charge. Therefore, for a leader to stay in power, it is crucial that he or she maintain the trust of his people. Breaking this trust can lead to dire consequences. Besides the current situation in Egypt, another famous example of betrayal of public trust is Julius Caesar, who was perceived as power-hungry and attempting to destroy the Republic in favor of a monarchy.
Dr. Gupta was right to say that second chances are possible only in certain situations. In cases like Caesar's, the severity of the crime ensured that he would not even be given the chance to defend or explain himself. He was assassinated immediately by Roman Senators. For Indira Gandhi it was a different story.
What does this tell us? That the way for a leader to stay in power without harming his people is to keep them happy. Violence and oppression will only get a leader removed in disgrace. If instead a leader chooses to be honest with the public, as Indira Gandhi was, then even mistakes are forgivable, and a leader can continue to govern. In that case, there is no best strategy for staying in power in the Middle East, not if the damage is already done.

Posted by: njain31 | February 25, 2011 12:04 PM
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People want something fresh.

Posted by: uzs106 | February 24, 2011 3:42 PM
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I do agree that for some leaders second chances are possible. However, I think that the only way for an autocratic leader to capitalize on his or her second chance and remain in power is to compromise and begin caring, or at least demonstrating repsect, for one's citizens. All protests occur for a reason. Thus, if the leader can agree to find a middle ground and begin to give the people at least some of the things they desire or alleviate their grievances in some way, then, inherently, the protests will most likely begin to abate. Once these protests do, in fact, dissipate both sides will be happier and have gotten what they wanted: the protesting citizens would have accomplished their goals by having some of their requests met and the ruler would have accomplished his or her goal of staying in power. For, I do not believe that a ruler would be forced out of power by the citizens of his or her country if he or she can demonstrate to the people that their requests and desires are not falling on deaf ears and will be implemented. All in all, the best strategy for an autocratic leader to imploy in order to hold onto power without harming his or her country is to force the protests to end on their own terms by meeting at least some of the people's demands.

Posted by: toribennette | February 24, 2011 3:13 PM
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