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September 27, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10231

Kuwaiti Journalist: Democracy In Arab States Is Limited, Flawed Due To Political Culture Characterized By Prioritizing Narrow Interests

September 27, 2022
Kuwait | Special Dispatch No. 10231

On July 12, 2022, several days after the resignation of British prime minister Boris Johnson, Kuwaiti journalist Muhammad Al-Rumaihi published a column on the Nahar Al-Arabi website in which he compared the implementation of democracy in the West and in the Arab countries. He wrote that Western democracy, while not without its flaws, is true democracy, capable of mending its mistakes, and that Western politicians in countries like Britain are committed to the spirit of democracy, which prevents them from crossing red lines. Conversely, in the Arab countries, democracy is only apparent, and a flawed political culture prevails in which politicians focus on promoting narrow personal and partisan interests, while trampling the state institutions. As an example he presents Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon, which, he says, call themselves democratic but do not really practice democracy, which results in deep political and economic crises and in the repeated election of the least qualified individuals.


Muhammad Al-Rumaihi (Source: Twitter.com/rumaihi42.com)

The following are translated excerpts from his article.[1]

"A comparison between the implementation of democracy in the West and its implementation in our region is embarrassing. It's not like [Western] democracy is flawless, but the difference is that it sooner or later corrects its course and amends its mistakes. In our Arab region, [on the other hand], there is democracy in the general sense of the word, but there are no mechanisms for correcting [it when it goes wrong]. On the contrary, there are mechanisms for destroying and hampering it. As a result, the peoples in some of our [Arab] homelands suffer from serious problems in those spheres that are supported to be 'democratic.'

"A blatant example is what is happening in Tunisia, which many once regarded as the only country that emerged from the Arab Spring with minimal damage and even with some achievements.  The people of Tunisia agreed on the 2014 constitution, whose articles were attractive and even excellent. But, when it came to implementing [them], some people allowed themselves to do what should not be allowed in any democracy. [Personal] interests superseded the articles [of the constitution] and partisan considerations superseded the interests of the collective. The elements that rose to power dragged their feet in appointing a constitutional court, whose establishment is mandated by the constitution itself… Each side wanted to appoint its own loyalists, on the assumption that, in case of a dispute, they would rule in its favor… This foot-dragging cast the Tunisian society into the crisis we are seeing [today].[2]  

"In every democratic experiment in the Arab [world], the problem turns out to be the people, or, more accurately, the political culture of society and of the elite. [Arab] states that have a so-called constitutional court generally use it to do the bidding of the regime and grant it a seal of legitimacy. In other cases the regime interferes and thwarts the court's activity whenever it finds that this activity does not conform to its wishes. On December 2, 2012, for example, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood [which was in power at the time] surrounded the constitutional court and disrupted its activity…

"Whoever thinks that elections in Lebanon involve anything that resembles democracy [should note] that the legal investigation into the great disaster of August 4, 2020, known as the port catastrophe [i.e., the Beirut port blast], was sabotaged, and to this day nobody knows who was responsible [for the blast], even though 218 people, from Lebanon and other countries, were killed in it and 7,000 were injured. It seems that the citizens' blood, their wounds and even their money are meaningless in the swamp of interest-driven struggles…[3]

"Conversely, the recent events in Britain show the opposite. Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] lied to the public and to his fellow cabinet members, causing two senior ministers, the Treasury chief and the Health Minister, to resign [in protest]… Following this, many other ministers resigned [as well], believing that lying is a grave flaw in a politician. The most important point in this story is the political culture and the moral commitment [it reflects, which mean] that there is a red line that neither politicians nor anyone else is allowed to cross. That is the spirit of democracy, and that is why the Prime Minister had to resign…

"In Kuwait, although the country has had a parliament for six decades, this parliament still runs into many difficulties and goes from one crisis to the next. There is one main reason for this…  which is the people, not the articles [of the constitution]…

"The aftermath of the election in Iraq also reflects a clear decline in respect for the results of elections. [The rulers there say to themselves:] The public can say what it wants in the polls, and then we, the rulers, will do as we please…[4]

"Most professions require their practitioners to be licensed and trained before getting the job. But politicians are an exception to this rule, especially the Arab ones: They need only join a party with economic clout, or an armed [party] that forces certain options on people, or [a party that represents] a powerful tribe or sect, in order to gain power that cannot be opposed. Then they violate the law, spread corruption and get rich at the expense of the majority. 

"Moreover, candidates for some political positions in our region, for instance the position of MP… are not required to have any qualifications beyond the ability to read and write!! A side-effect of democracy in the Arab [world] is that the politicians form a [closed] club, and some of them come down with the disease of [sticking to] their seat, which is what they yearn for and what they fight for.

"The crux of the Arab democratic experiment… is that the least competent people are usually rewarded by being elected as legislators again and again. So where is the flaw? Surely not in the articles [of the constitution]!"

 

[1] Annaharar.com, July 12, 2022.

[2] The reference is to a series of measures taken by Tunisian President Kais Saied since June 2021 to concentrate power in his hands, including the dismissal of the government, the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of judges. See e.g., Raialyoum.com, July 26, 2021; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 31, 2022; Al-Arabiya.net, June 2, 2022.

[4] Nearly a year after the October 2021 parliamentary election in Iraq, the country still has no government due to political disagreements.

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