Ethics and social responsibility
Business ethics, corporate responsibility, social responsibility, international ethics, crisis management, stakeholders, politics
On Thursday January 27, 2011, hundreds of thousands of protesters in Egypt were vociferously demanding an end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, and to the state of emergency he had let prevail, and nurtured during that tenure. The protest movement was expected to gather even greater momentum following the afternoon prayers the next day, a Friday. The communication and connectivity through social media had acted as a key catalyst in enabling the protesters to coordinate their actions. President Mubarak’s government decided to strike hard at the lifeline of this virtual medium, by exploiting some of the rights that the state of emergency had accorded them. That afternoon, the government ordered the three main voice and data communications providers in Egypt – Vodafone, Mobinil, and Etisalat – to suspend services in selected areas. Among these areas was Tahrir Square (“Freedom/Martyrs’ Square”) in Cairo, the biggest nucleus where protesters had assembled. Later, the government would also instruct these communications providers to broadcast propaganda text messages to all their subscribers, imploring them to be on the side of the Egyptian Army, which the government said was the true protector of Egypt. When Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt, heard about the government’s order, he was about to take a crucial decision. He knew that the situation in Egypt was being observed closely from all over the world. Dowidar also realized that the course of action he opted for would have consequences not just for Vodafone Egypt, but also for the parent Vodafone Group. He contemplated the possible consequences, well aware that any decision he took would invariably evoke strong reactions.
The case offers the opportunity to discuss some implications of national crises on multi-national corporations (MNCs), especially implications for business, society, and ethics. Given the fairly well-known historical context of the case, as well as, the non-technical nature of the underlying issue, the case can be used for a broad range of audiences. We have already successfully used the case in MBA settings, in executive education courses, and in workshops that were open to the general public.
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