October 30, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5868

Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi: The Only Cure For Yemen And Other Arab Republics Is Liberal Democracy

October 30, 2014
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5868

In an October 4, 2014 article titled "Liberal Democracy is the Solution for Yemen and Other [Arab Countries]," published in the Saudi daily Al-Hayat, veteran Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prescribes liberal democracy as the only possible cure for Yemen and other Arab countries wracked by civil war, and recommends that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states sponsor their transition to democracy. Acknowledging that this smacks of contradiction, since Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are not democratic themselves, he explains that these countries are not in a state of collapse and can therefore afford to defer their adoption of democracy. While conceding that democratization will be a painful, protracted and uneven process, he mentions that Europe, too, took a long time to complete this transition, and repeats that it is the only viable solution for most Arab countries.

The following are excerpts from the article.

Jamal Khashoggi (image:

"For The Arab Republics Democracy Is Not A Choice, But A Necessity... That Can Save Them… From Civil Wars And Complete Disintegration"

"It was only natural for the Gulf interior ministers to meet in Jeddah last Wednesday to discuss the situation in their backyard, Yemen; in fact, they left it quite late. What has happened in Yemen are the result of non-intervention that has been going on for years, and of settling for the famous Gulf initiative[1] without addressing its details. The meeting yielded a general [closing] statement that warned Iran against intervening [in Yemen], [expressed] support for the collapsing Yemeni government, and condemned the use of arms. However, it provided no magical recipe [for solving the crisis in] Yemen.

"The truth is that the only magical recipe for Yemen and other Arab republics is democracy, but I do not expect either the Gulf Cooperation Council or even the Arab League to propose this explicitly, for most Arab countries have problems with democracy that must be addressed by decision-makers before being addressed by the intellectuals and the political elites, which have collapsed as part of the general collapse of many Arab countries. No one in the Arab world has presented an alternative project instead of war, military confrontations, pleas, condemnations and wishes.

"The Gulf states said they 'would not stand idly by in the face of sectarian foreign intervention in Yemen,' and the meaning of this is clear: [they are referring] to Iran. However, Iran will not take over Yemen completely unless the Houthis consolidate their control over it. Preventing this via direct intervention means either war, which nobody wants, or supporting some other [Yemeni] party against them, which means civil war in Yemen. Civil war will not benefit the Gulf states or the [Saudi] kingdom or their stability.

"Therefore, only the magic wand of democracy will prevent the Houthis from taking exclusive control of Yemen and protect it from sliding into a civil war that will destroy everything and will have a negative impact on Yemen's neighbors, especially on Saudi Arabia, which shares the longest borders with Yemen."

"Some might say [this is] a suggestion full of contradictions, for Saudi Arabia [itself] is not democratic, and the Yemeni people [likewise] does not know how to practice democracy and government turnover. However, for the Arab republics democracy is not a choice, but a necessity. It's the only cure that can save them - not from the state of backwardness, corruption and tyranny… but from the much greater danger of civil wars and complete disintegration. It's [a choice between] democracy or civil war. The autocrats who ruled Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Egypt under the false guise of democracy, and used their security services to enforce [false] stability in their countries, will not return after being toppled in the genuine popular revolutions of 2011. Clear evidence of this is the internecine fighting that is currently destroying Syria, Iraq and Libya… These three countries would have avoided this fate if they had only accepted liberal democracy, willingly or by force..."

Saying That Arabs Are Not Ready For Democracy Is An Excuse That Means Evading The Only Solution Left To Them; Learning Democracy Will Be Painful, But Avoiding It Will Be Worse

"As for the excuse that the people are not ready for democracy, it means evading the only solution left to the wretched people. The truth is that, even if the people were not well-versed in democracy (which is the fault of the corrupt regimes that governed them), they have rapidly learnt it. Proof of this was the high voter turnout [in the elections that took place] in the Arab countries that freed themselves of tyranny in the 2011 revolutions. Even better proof is post-Saddam Iraq. The ones who failed and proved to be unready for democracy are the political elites and intellectuals, who didn't accept the results [of the elections] and [instead] incited strife in their societies, mobilized the masses [in support of] their selfish desires, emptied democracy of its essence and advantages, and sought shelter [beneath the wings of] the very tyranny they once complained of, be it military, sectarian or tribal [tyranny]. They are the ones who need to learn democracy, not the citizens whom they call 'mobs' just because they did not vote for them.

"Yes, we lack a culture of awareness when it comes to democracy. This is an old-new crisis that is linked to the problem of the balance between 'proper governance' and the [principle of] not coming out agaisnt the ruler, which is [part of] the Islamic shari'a. This is what caused incompatibility with democracy, despite the early [democratic] approaches, from the Ottoman state[2]to the Khedivate of Egypt,[3] attempts that failed until the advent of the 2011 revolutions and that continue to fail, and there are still some among us who say that democracy does not suit us. This culture of rejecting or disparaging democracy gave birth to people who not only regard democracy as heresy, but also accuse people of heresy and kill them for accepting or practicing it. Our crisis with democracy is greater than we think. Learning it and accepting it will be painful, but fleeing from it [and choosing] civil war will be even more painful.

"Lest we give up and capitulate to those who advocate postponing democracy until the people learn it, we must remember that, [even] in Europe, democracy did not crystallize in its current form until the 19th century, and stabilized only after decades of struggle…

Saudi Arabia Is Not In A State Of Collapse That Necessitates The Cure Of Democracy

"The other contradiction [has to do with the question of] how Saudi Arabia can sponsor a transition to democracy in Yemen and other wretched Arab republics when it itself is not democratic? The contradiction here is theoretical and philosophical, but in practice there is no contradiction, for Saudi Arabia is not in a state of rot and collapse that necessitates this 'medicine'… However, for the [Arab] republics, this 'medicine' is a must. It's the only solution the various sides can agree on [despite] having different programs for the country. Democracy means struggle and competition, but without arms, or at least without civil war, [though] no one can guarantee that the sides in Yemen will not resort to arms from time to time…

"The Houthis will not complete their takeover of Yemen except through civil war, and their rivals will not be able to get rid of them except through civil war. Libya’s General Haftar will not be able to eradicate the [Muslim] Brotherhood in the country except by continuing the current civil war, and the Brotherhood will not be able to eliminate him except by winning this civil war. The same goes for Iraq, Syria and other countries. The only solution is for them to sit together under the sponsorship of a big brother – if not the stable Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries then the United States or the European Union (as happened in Libya) – and under a banner saying 'disagree all you want, but avoid war and killing.' Then they will lay down sound foundations for elections, government turnover, and commitment to democracy. The alternative is war, as is happening now."

"The only side that is not invited to partake in democracy is the Salafi takfiri [stream], currently embodied by the Islamic State [ISIS]. ISIS rejects democracy in principle, accuses those who accept it of heresy, and allows their killing. I mentioned them here as a reminder that they are another ugly alternative to democracy, besides civil war."


[1] The Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, proposed in April 2011, called for President Ali Saleh to transfer his powers to Vice President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution. Saleh signed the deal in November of that year, but it ultimately failed to bring quiet to the country.

[2] Khashoggi is apparently referring to the Tanzimat reforms promulgated by Sultan Abdülmecid in 1839 as the Ottoman Empire's belated response to the American and French Revolutions and European liberalism. The reforms were intended to protect the citizen's life and property from governmental arbitrariness.

[3] Isma'il the Khedive, viceroy of Egypt between 1863-1879, attempted to reform the country culturally, economically and politically including by forming a representative assembly.

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