It’s a beautiful summer’s day as I stroll into the lobby of the Montreux Suisse Majestic Hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva. The group of famous, perhaps infamous, men is having breakfast al fresco on the terrace. It’s known locally as “The Riviera.”
Holding court at the center of the large table is Hosni Mubarak. Near him I see Ben Ali checking his accounts on his BlackBerry; on his right, Laurent Gbagbo is talking loudly into his iPhone. Slightly removed from the gathering, I spy Robert Mugabe pecking disconsolately at an iPad. No Facebook friends?
This is the BB Club. A loose association of ex-presidents, former autocrats and deposed strongmen. All of them have succumbed to the will of the people, ousted by popular clamour. And often, this clamour resonated on the social networks, Twitter, Facebook and mobile messaging.
“That’s why we call it the BB Club,” laughs a dispossessed Sheik, or was he a Sultan? “If I’d banned BlackBerry when I had the chance, maybe I’d still be in power! But then, how would I have communicated with my kids in California?”
He takes a sip of Cognac and twirls his Cuban cigar, then continues. “Mind you, I’m making more on the speaker circuit than I did when I was in charge, and it’s all legit,” he grins. “And it’s such a relief to be free of all those religious customs and silly protocols. Don’t quote that!” He suddenly collects himself. “I do miss the old country, but what the people want enough, they eventually get. Good luck to them.” I snag some sushi.
These men have all been at the top of the pile, some of them for decades, and many fought long and hard for the privilege. But, with transparency the way it is today, everyone connected, online and able to mobilize public, global opinion, I can’t help but wonder: What took so long for the people to come to their senses? Perhaps it was the fact that information democracy took everyone by surprise – they just didn’t realize the power in their handset, until it started to work, all over the world.
There’s a sudden stir, as a new arrival makes a noisy entrance with his entourage.
“Oh no,” groans my confidant, “Gadhafi just joined the club!”