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March 31, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8666

Visions Of The Post-Coronavirus World – Part II: Saudi Columnists: The Epidemic Proves That Democracy Is Not Sacrosanct

March 31, 2020
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 8666

The COVID-19 crisis has given rise to a debate in the Arab media, and especially in the Saudi media, about a new world order and new forms of government required in the world after the crisis. Many articles in the Saudi press praised the authoritarian Chinese regime for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while noting the failure of democratic European countries to rapidly contain it and their eventual adoption of emergency measures entailing strict limitations on civil freedoms. This was perceived by many Saudi writers as proof of the failure of the democratic system and as an opportunity to reject the pressures that the West has long been exerting on Saudi Arabia to promote democratization in the kingdom.

Since it is affects the whole world, the writers argued, the epidemic puts the various modes of government to the test, and the poor performance of the democracies, whose citizens "fell like flies," proves that democracy is not necessarily a recipe for effective governance.  Some of the writers stressed that different societies require different forms of government, and that Western-style democracy does not necessarily suit the Arab societies, whereas the monarchic regimes of the Gulf – such as the Saudi regime -- proved to be successful in caring for their citizens' wellbeing in the present crisis.

The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles.

It Was The Citizens Of The Democracies Who "Fell Like Flies"

Columnist Hamoud Abu Taleb wrote under the headline "COVID-19 and the Regimes' Moral Test": "Just as it challenged the knowledge and development of science and medicine, the novel coronavirus posed an equal, of not more prominent, challenge to the practical [abilities] and moral [quality] of political regimes... This is the first time all the [world's] regimes are being put to a uniform test [assessing] their [treatment] of individuals and the value they accord them…  

"All types of regime are being put to the test: monarchic and republican, presidential and parliamentary, capitalist and socialist, democratic and authoritarian. All these names and labels have lost their significance, compared to [a different parameter]: the quality of the healthcare system. For the public is now interested in only one question: what have the healthcare systems provided and what will they provide to the individual in this disaster that is threatening humanity[?] This tiny virus that crosses continents has managed to change the usual equations, and now people do not want their countries to boast democracy, [political] participation, free elections and other similar slogans. They want a healthcare system that respects life and an individual's right to receive the best possible care in the face of this sweeping epidemic.

"Many political regimes claim to place the citizen or individual at the top of their agenda, but they have badly failed the test of the coronavirus, leaving each [citizen] to face his fate alone, with minimal medical treatment. Worse, [some] countries have turned the masses into a herd that must develop immunity to the virus on its own, instead of being protected by proper healthcare systems. The Old World, with its noble history, its established democracies and its many capabilities, has been shamefully helpless and its citizens have succumbed [to the virus] by the thousand, falling like flies, one by one, within a short period of time. Conversely, a regime closer to socialism and communism, or to totalitarianism, which the West condemns – namely China – has gloriously managed to accord greater value to human [lives] by dispensing medical treatment [on a scale] unprecedented in the history of catastrophic epidemics. Countries that emerged and developed only recently, such as Saudi Arabia, which has faced much criticism, likewise became a model for countries [established] hundreds of years earlier in terms of building government systems, including the healthcare system, and managing crises. The coronavirus exposed the faults of many regimes, removed many masks and revealed many deceptions with which regimes tried to mislead their people."[1]     

Compelled To Curb Civil Liberties, The West Has Perhaps Realized That There Are Better Alternatives To Democracy

Muhammad Al-Sa'ed wrote under the title “The Coronavirus Has Delivered the Coup de Grace to the Old Continent [of Europe]": "Who could ever imagine that the leaders of France and Italy, John [sic] Macron and Giuseppe Conte,  and of Britain and Spain, would address their public and announce emergency measures and restrictions on  individual freedoms without going through the [usual] procedures of legislation and voting[?] These are decisions more fateful than the declaration of war, yet the European public accepts them. In fact, it even criticizes the governments for delaying so long before adopting these precautions. As we all know, this is a blow to the 'values' that the West constantly touted and on which it based its legitimacy, [purporting to be] the one who defends and champions them…

"When it voluntarily waived these rights, even temporarily, did the West realize that there are other [models of] government except the [democratic] one in which parties vie [for power], a model that has not provided [people with] better lives?...

"In 2012, Emirati Foreign Minister 'Abdullah bin Zayed tweeted: "People are like waves. If you adapt yourself to them they will drown you, if you resist them they will exhaust you, if you serve them they will argue with you. So force them to their future in chains, and then they will thank you'…

"Sheikh 'Abdullah [bin Zayed] did not mean to [literally] put people in chains and drag them through the streets. He meant that certain developments may compel states to strongarm [the people] and to  take firm measures comparable to placing [people] in chains in order to drag them to safety. This is [necessary] since the collective culture usually resists obeying authority, and values liberty, freedom of movement and lack of restrictions…  

"The question is whether the current measures [being taken] in the West herald the disappearance of the idea of governing through elections, which is regarded as democracy by Western standards. Will the Western peoples endorse the idea of states [governed by] monarchies, or nation-states that build up the homeland instead of following the lead of warring [political] parties whose sole concern is pleasing their voters and bribing them in order to win the ballot? That is what has destroyed Europe’s economy and turned it into an aging continent. What is happening today is the closest thing to delivering the coup de grace to this old continent, so as to prompt the emergence of younger and more vital states from within it."[2]


Cartoon in Saudi daily: The EU, struggling with the epidemic, has left Italy behind (Makkah, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2020)

In Times Of Crisis, Democracies Prefer Centralized Forms Of Government, Like China's

Columnist 'Abdallah Al-Faraj wrote in the Al-Riyadh daily: "China has not only managed to beat this monster [i.e., the coronavirus], but has become a model showing the whole world how to fight it. Therefore, as we follow the events in the various countries of the world, including in the most developed countries, such as the U.S., we see that they are all following the example of China, which dealt with this monster in a commendable manner. That is why the U.S. [announced] a state of emergency in order to grant President [Trump's] administration, and especially the healthcare sector, broader powers and enable the greatest possible flexibility in fighting the coronavirus...

"This [demonstrated] the benefit of centralized government and the importance of the government sector in managing crises. We see that [the need to] tackle the coronavirus [epidemic] forced democratic governments  to declare a state of emergency so as to grant themselves broader powers. This means, inter alia, that these countries prefer centralized government, or the Chinese approach, in times of crisis.

"This gives rise to [the following] question: If we justify broadening the decision-makers' powers in times of crisis, why not justify the [approach of the] developing countries that employ the centralized model in order to overcome [their] backwardness and boost their growth? Is there anything more important for a country than fighting economic decline and harnessing resources for economic growth?..."[3]

There Is No One Correct Form Of Government; Democracy Does Not Suit The Peoples Of The Gulf

Saudi writer and researcher Fahed Al-Shoqiran wrote under the headline "The Monarchies and the Realization of the Concept of the State" "One of the greatest and maddest errors of the Arab intellectuals is their plot to sanctify democracy and set out a specific definition for [the term] 'liberty.' The intellectuals and fundamentalists share this [error, since both] yearn for a democratic regime that sanctifies the ballot and defines liberty in one specific way. [But] the Arab world has suffered under the rule of republican regimes and democracies with [political] parties and ballots, which did not lay down foundations for a uniform culture, make any reliable achievements, build a pride-worthy infrastructure or lay down foundations for [cultivating] people who are capable of developing and talking an active part in the revival of the world.

"Today, in the current crisis [that has befallen] mankind [i.e., the coronavirus epidemic], heated comparisons are being made between monarchies and their rationale in dealing with their people [on the one hand], and the Western  regimes [on the other]. [These comparisons highlight] the plurality of forms of government and the legitimacy [of different forms]. The Western rage, which came to a head at the start of the present millennium, [at the absence] of democracy, elections and public participation [in other countries] infringed on the sovereignty of various regimes, which enjoy the support of [their] public. The Western experience has its own characteristics, but [it cannot be] applied indiscriminately to all peoples. Even Max Weber, in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, contends that it is difficult to implement the Western model [of government] outside Europe. The monarchic regimes of the Gulf do not marginalize the social contract between the state and citizen, but have a different paradigm for organizing and regulating these relations  [than the one used] in the democratic mechanism… 

"There is no one permanent [form of] government. Every society has its own characteristics, which are the basis for its [form of] government. The monarchies have proved, over time, that they can form the best infrastructures in the region, and can form regimes that encompass the beneficial authentic traditions [of their peoples, but also] the praiseworthy aspects of all [other] human cultures. As a result, they excelled and achieved a high level of education and of managing crises with wisdom. All those who [like to] lecture the Gulf countries [about their lack of democracy] should pause and consider the gaps, unrest and flaws that afflict their [own] countries.

"Democracy is not a [necessary] condition for realizing the concept of the state. This form of government does not necessarily produce justice, and liberty can become [nothing more than] a political slogan with which to pummel [other regimes].  Therefore, we need to de-sanctify all these slogans.”[4]

 

[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 19, 2020.

[2] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 19, 2020.

[3] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 21, 2020.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 26, 2020.

 

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