The Businesses Benefiting From the Arab Spring

Levi's wants protesters to wear their jeans as a "uniform of progress"

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We'll forgive you if you don't associate Levi's jeans with the Middle East uprisings. But, hey, maybe someday you will. Levi's president Robert Hanson tells Reuters today that the company's global "Go Forth" marketing campaign resonates with the Arab Spring's revolutionary ethos. "You've got young people showing up saying let's galvanize the power of our collective force, work hard to make the world a better place," he explains. "And what better brand than Levi's? We're doing a lot of innovative things in our products and stores to have them choose Levi's as the uniform of progress."

The "Go Forth" message isn't new; the company began using the phrase, coined by ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, in an idealistic, Walt Whitman-starring ad campaign geared at the young "pioneers" back home in America in 2009 (Levi's spokesperson Alexa Rudin tells us the new global campaign is designed to "capture the optimistic youth spirit that results in art, music, and all kinds of cultural and social movements," not just the Arab Spring). But the connection Hanson draws between Levi's and the protests makes us wonder: What other businesses are benefiting or seeking to benefit--in varying degrees of tastelessness--from the unrest in the Mideast? It's an eclectic bunch:

  • Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr: These social networking services have only grown more prominent as protesters in the Arab world have, in the words of MSNBC, harnessed them as "organizing tools and as broadcasting platforms." It's unclear whether the increased exposure will translate into additional dollars for these companies, and the social networks have at times stirred up controversy for removing sensitive content emerging from the uprisings. In May, Mark Zuckerberg played down Facebook's role in the protests, noting that revolutions represented only a "tiny" amount of activity on the site.
  • Web Anonymizers: Fast Company explains that Arab activists trying to circumvent government censors are increasingly turning to solutions from Silicon Valley startups, which can translate "into big business." Since the uprisings began, AnchorFree, which offers a free, ad-supported, downloadable application that masks identities online, has seen traffic from Egypt increase from 140,000 users to one million users. The company saw huge jumps in Libya as well. 
  • Al Jazeera: Washington influentials have embraced the Qatar-based pan-Arab television network--especially its English-language offering--during the uprisings, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even shaming all western media outlets when she explained that Al Jazeera is increasingly popular "because it's real news." McClatchy's William Douglas wonders whether Al Jazeera is experiencing its "CNN Moment," as "its coverage of the Middle East uprisings is catapulting it into U.S. prominence much as CNN's round-the-clock coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War did for it." In fact, the network is currently working to get Al Jazeera English on more U.S. cable systems. 
  • Arms Dealers: Time reports that black-market arms dealers in Lebanon are "swamped" by requests from Syrians hoping to protect their families or retaliate against the regime's security forces. "There is an arms selling frenzy," one dealer explains. The Washington Post adds that the "multibillion-dollar business of arms sales to the Middle East may remain the one constant" in an otherwise shifting region, adding that at a recent convention of arms sellers in Abu Dhabi there was an uptick in interest in "nonlethal armaments" like anti-riot gear--the "kind put to overwhelming use recently in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere."
  • The Diamond and Real Estate Businesses: George Godber, a London-based fund manager, tells CNBC that the Middle East's wealthy individuals, rattled by revolution, are moving their cash from stocks and bonds to safer, more tangible investments like diamonds and high-end London properties. 

There are other companies that haven't dealt with the uprisings particularly well, occasionally making a rather too obvious bid for business gain. Designer Kenneth Cole, for example, provoked outrage when the company tweeted, "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online." That hasn't stopped others in the corporate world from making awkward analogies, however. Venture capitalist Roger McNamee told the Los Angeles Times last month that he thought the music industry was headed for its own Arab Spring, and potentially a communist revolution:

At one time, there were 8 million bands represented on MySpace. That means Silicon Valley has finally made a hero out of Karl Marx because the means of production are now in the hands of the proletariat. The recorded music business has shrunk dramatically. But people's interest in music is higher than ever. We're going to have an Arab spring in technology that will liberate the people who create content from the influence of guys who have dominated them for a long time.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.