Kuwaiti Journalist: Democracy in the Arab States is limited, imperfect due to a political culture characterized by the prioritization of narrow interests

On July 12, 2022, a few days after the resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Kuwaiti journalist Muhammad Al-Rumaihi published an op-ed on the Nahar Al-Arabi website in which he compared the establishment of democracy in the West and in the Arab countries . He wrote that Western democracy, though not without flaws, is real democracy, capable of righting 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 Arab countries, democracy is only in appearance and a flawed political culture prevails in which politicians focus on promoting narrow personal and partisan interests, while trampling on state institutions. . As an example, he presents Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon which, he says, claim to be democratic but do not really practice democracy, which results in deep political and economic crises and in the repeated election of individuals the least qualified.

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

Here 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 sooner or later it corrects its course and corrects its mistakes. In our Arab region, [on the other hand]there is democracy in the general sense of the term, but there are no mechanisms to correct [it when it goes wrong]. On the contrary, there are mechanisms to destroy and hinder it. As a result, the peoples of some of our [Arab] the fatherlands suffer from serious problems in the spheres considered “democratic”.

“A glaring example is what is happening in Tunisia, which many once considered the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with minimal damage and even with some achievements. The Tunisian people agreed on the 2014 constitution , whose articles were attractive and even excellent. But, when it came to implementing [them]some people have allowed themselves to do what should not be allowed in a democracy. [Personal] interest takes precedence over items [of the constitution] and partisan considerations have supplanted collective interests. The elements that came to power dragged their feet in appointing a constitutional court, the establishment of which is mandated by the constitution itself…Each side wanted to appoint its own loyalists, assuming that in the event of a dispute, they would rule in his favour. … These delays have plunged Tunisian society into the crisis we are experiencing [today].[2]

“In every democratic experience in the Arab world [world]the problem turns out to be the people, or, more accurately, the political culture of society and the elites. [Arab] states that have a so-called constitutional court usually use it to obey the regime and give it a seal of legitimacy. In other cases, the regime interferes and thwarts the activity of the court whenever it finds that this activity is not in accordance with 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 the elections in Lebanon involve anything resembling democracy [should note] that the judicial inquiry into the major disaster of August 4, 2020, known as the port disaster [i.e., the Beirut port blast]was sabotaged, and to this day no one knows who was responsible [for the blast], although 218 people, from Lebanon and other countries, were killed there and 7,000 injured. It seems that the citizens’ blood, their wounds and even their money no longer have any meaning in the swamp of the struggles of interests…[3]

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

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

“The consequences of the elections in Iraq also reflect a sharp decline in respect for the results of the elections. [The rulers there say to themselves:] The public can say what they want 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 Arabs: they just have to join an economically influential party or a armed group. [party] that forces certain options on people, or [a party that represents] a powerful tribe or sect, in order to acquire a power that cannot be opposed. Then they break the law, spread corruption and enrich themselves at the expense of the majority.

“Furthermore, candidates for certain political positions in our region, for example the position of MP… are not required to have any qualifications other than the ability to read and write!! A side effect of democracy in the Arab World [world] is that politicians form a [closed] club, and some of them contract the disease of [sticking to] their seat, what they aspire to and what they fight for.

“The crux of the Arab democratic experience…is that the least competent people are usually rewarded by being elected 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 for example, Raialyoum.com, July 26, 2021; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 31, 2022; Al-Arabiya.net, June 2, 2022.

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