A brand is what you are known for, like it or not. I write sometimes about country brands, and that’s essentially what I was describing in my Washington Post op-ed about Merida, Mexico two weeks ago – a place that deserves its distinctive, different brand.
But let’s change the focus to another country I know well. Bahrain has always been known as the “moderate alternative” in a harsh region. Friendly, laid back, where women could drive and work, and Saudi men “relax” in nightclubs with (gasp) liquor, Bahrain positioned itself as a good place to live and do business, an alternative to Saudi Arabia across the causeway. An ancient speck of land in a vast sea of sand and water, all it has to offer is a central location for financial and other services and being a nicer place to live. It was where you decided to go when your wife said she wouldn’t live in Saudi or Kuwait.
So now what does Bahrain do when it has ruined its brand? What is its value proposition? Even from here I can hear the suitcases being packed, the offices being relocated, the calls from families that have already left, and the inquiries about investment alternatives. Without political stability and moderation, what does Bahrain have to offer?
I used to spend dead quiet weekends driving through the poor Shiite villages, with lousy housing, fading paint and no air conditioning in a place where summer temperatures can reach 38º C. I am so sorry, I have no side in this fight, but this horrible political crisis just makes public the reality that anyone who has spent time there knew all along — that this was a terribly fragile situation, ready to break along Sunni/Shiite demographic lines.
And it now has. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and it will take all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put him back up again. If they can. A brand once broken is dreadfully hard to recreate, especially for a country without other resources. Which is why it is really important not to break it. And that’s my point: the financial price for this political drama will be deep and long lasting.