Social media crises – Lebanon’s Fransabank and the email banning employees from attending Friday prayers

A second post this week focusing on social media and the digital world. And, similarly to the STC story, this article is also about a crisis. However, the background to what happened with Lebanon’s Fransabank is different to that of the public backlash against STC and its alleged poor customer service.

On the 22nd of July a picture began to circulate on social media channels of an email allegedly sent from an administration assistant banning male employees at Fransabank from going to Friday Prayers. A little context here for those who don’t know Lebanon. Unlike in the rest of the Middle East, Lebanon’s weekend is Saturday and Sunday and not Friday. For Muslims, the weekly communal prayer is held on a Friday at noon, and according to Lebanon’s constitution regarding freedom of religion all Muslim employees have the right to attend Friday prayers during their working day.

The connotation behind the alleged email was that male Muslim employees were not returning back to work after their prayers. You can see a screenshot of the email below.

This is a copy of the email allegedly written by a Fransabank employee and then leaked to the net

This is a copy of the email allegedly written by a Fransabank employee and then leaked to the net

As with many other religious issues in Lebanon, a country that is home to a complex mixture of religions and ethnicities, the email set off a storm of commentary on Facebook in particular. The issue reached back to Fransabank and their communications team acted to take control of the situation.

On the same day they issued a statement, in the form of a letter in Arabic, reaffirming respect for all of their employees and their religious duties. In addition, the letter (which is a fairly long crisis statement), also noted that the email was not authorized to be sent by the Bank (which would imply that the email was sent by an actual employee).

This was the first response from Fransabank on the email leak.

This was the first response from Fransabank on the email leak.

All well and good you’d think, but it didn’t stop there. Unfortunately, the first statement was signed but no one knows by whom as there was no name underneath the signature. Secondly, the letter was printed on a plain piece of A4 rather than a Fransabank letterhead. Cue the second letter, which you can see below.

Which was followed by a second statement from Fransabank, this time on an official letterhead

Which was followed by a second statement from Fransabank, this time on an official letterhead

There are obvious lessons here for all of us in communications. Firstly, get your internal communications right and make sure that your employees are aware of your values and your obligations. Legally, no employee should have shared an email regarding stopping their colleagues from performing their religious duties. From the perspective of values, would any Muslim employee want to work at an institution that doesn’t respect their right to pray on a Friday? While there were allegations of employees not returning to work after prayer, was such a response the right reaction? If values and compliance were communicated internally well and the issue of non-attendance handed in a different manner, maybe the email would never ever have been written, let alone leaked via social media.

Secondly, the response. Kudos to the Fransabank team for responding promptly on the same day after becoming aware of the issue (one question I have is how did they come across the original email post). But was the response adequate? Was a letter the right way to do it, especially a letter with no name attached and which is not printed on the bank’s letterhead? Could the team have responded differently, through a video message from a senior executive or a briefer holding statement that goes to the core of the issue about respect for religion and respect for their employees’ right to pray on a Friday?

The Fransabank story is another reminder that social media can bite you at any time. Every employee will have access to the internet, if not on their company computers, then through their mobile phones. Every employee will also have access to a camera, thanks to those same internet-enabled phones. Any content can be uploaded which can harm a person’s reputation. Was Fransabank ready for the crisis? And are you ready if something similar leaks online?

A hijab, bacon and McDonalds’ breakfasts – the wonderful world of Ramadan advertising

Ramadan is a wonderful month, a time of spirituality for the world’s Muslims. It’s also the time of year when the advertising rules change as Muslims fast during the daylight hours and look to spend their nights either with family or in prayer.

In keeping with reaching out to Muslims, advertisers need to be ever-aware of religious sensitivities. Brands often feel the need to make a change to their ads. One such change, which was spotted by Dubai-based communications professional Mohammed Kharroubi (Twitter handle @mkdubai), involved the retailer Carrefour. Spot the change below.

Brands sometimes get things horrendously wrong. Another retailer, the UK retailer Tesco, made a huge faux-pas, when they promoted smokey bacon-flavor Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion. For those who don’t know, any pork-related products are considered haraam in Islam and are not consumed by Muslims. The below image went viral and has resulted in masses of media coverage in the UK.

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

And then, there’s the bizarre. According to Dubai-based marketing consultant Hussein Dajani, McDonalds has been running advertising for its breakfasts this month on the radio on Dubai. Unfortunately, Muslims fast during the day, and most of the McDonalds restaurants serving breakfast will be closed.

With Ramadan, it really does seem that while some brands are able to adapt and thrive, others need to do their homework. What are your thoughts? And do you have your own examples of successful and unsuccessful Ramadan advertising?

How much variety and discrimination is there in the Gulf?

The GCC is as diverse and complicated as any other part of the globe (credit:

Looking on in from the outside, most expatriates see the Arabian Peninsula as one monotonous geography. The women wear black (unless they’re Kuwaiti) and the mean wear white. The language is the same, and everyone is a Muslim. And that’s the Gulf.

Well, hardly. Each country is unique, and offers a wealth of diversity in terms of culture, history and opinions. The range of accents in Bahrain is so prominent that a local will be able to tell where a compatriot may be from how the greeting alone.

Saudi is the most diverse country in the region. Its twenty million nationals come from all four corners of the world, and don’t be surprised to meet a Saudi whose roots trace back to Indonesia, China, or Western Africa. The Kingdom’s Western Region is the richest melting pot you’ll come across, thanks to hundreds of years of pilgrimage to the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Often foreigners think that Dubai or Doha are the two cities that offer the greatest contrast of cultures and groups, but they don’t come close to what Jeddah has to offer.

And Christians in Kuwait and Bahrain? And a Jewish community in Manama? Yes, they’re locals (but there’s not many of them).

And of course, with variety comes discrimination. There’s a good deal of nepotism across the Gulf mainly due to the tribal, bedouin nature. It’s not uncommon to find a certain group dominating in one company – it’s not so much where a person is from as often as what their tribal name is. Many Saudis don’t use their tribal names any more. And there’s also discrimination based on region (Jeddah versus Riyadh, Dubai versus Abu Dhabi etc), on the history behind the family name (in other words how far back can the family’s genealogy be traced), and on religion (which mathab or religious affiliation a person adheres to).

While this isn’t unique to the Gulf (tell me a place where there isn’t any discrimination) what I do find interesting is the institutionalized discrimination in certain parts of the GCC. Some states, most notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman count GCC nationals as locals when it comes to hiring and nationalization quotas. The UAE and Qatar do not – when they say local they mean local. For a European the difference in policy between the two groups is hard to fathom (especially when considering the relatively small populations of both Qatar and the UAE when compared to Saudi Arabia).

So, the next time you’re sitting in the coffee ship and sipping on your coffee do remember to ask yourself where the gentleman in white is from. You may be surprised at how much you can learn about a region that is full of culture and contrast.

Eid Mubarak to you all!

Ramadan is over and the Muslim world and the Middle East is celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid. My very talented and lovely wife did me a design for the occasion for you all (I’ll admit I’m a day late posting this due to Eid obligations and niece sitting yesterday!).

So, as we say here Eid Mubarak to you all. Kol ahm wa intum bkhayr, or may you enjoy peace, good health and prosperity for the year to come!

The image is of a Bahraini folklore dancer. My wife says its a work in progress but the image looks great to me (well, I’m biased anyways!)