Opinion | Columnists

Democracy with dignity and honour

Mansour Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan writes: Gulf states should adopt a blueprint based on tribal values to create an equitable and progressive society

  • By Mansour Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:01 March 31, 2011
  • Gulf News

Egyptians dance and wave national flags
  • Image Credit: AP
  • In this February 12, 2011 file photo, Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square, Cairo after ousting Hosni Mubarak as president. In Egypt and Tunisia, there was a hesitation by autocratic regimes to support the people’s right to democracy.

Human rights and democracy influence the policies of western states, but these values are hardly understood by autocratic regimes and the organisations that support them.

The failure to understand that democracy has always been one of the causes of intervention in the arena of international relations has made autocratic regimes and their organisations unable to appreciate the policies of western democratic states and implicitly or explicitly criticise them.

Autocratic states are surrounded by an entourage that participates in shifting the regime to dictatorship. So, it is not only the regimes to blame, but parasites from society that benefit from dictatorships and could be worse off if the regimes wanted to shift to democracy.

However, to be able to cope with the 21st century world order, autocratic regimes should create a policy design to integrate and accept changes sought by the people and the western free world.

In the case of Gulf states, there is an implicit dissatisfaction among the people. This is manifested in a ‘proxy policy conflict' and surfaces in an external conflict for democracy. In Egypt and Tunisia, there was hesitation by autocratic regimes to support the people's right to democracy. As a result, they could not act before it was too late.

The free media is extremely intimidating to autocratic regimes. Due to dictators' lack of confidence, they become entrenched in a state-media conflict. Examples of these state fears were seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, with the Al Jazeera network exposing the fragility of these states.

From the above, it is conclusive that the time is ripe for Gulf states to make an elective choice for their people's self-determination, relying on a strong base of values and culture.

Historically, stability was based on tribal coalitions, where each tribe was represented by the wise ‘shaikh'. The shaikhs met in a ‘majlis' to discuss the needs of each tribe and the interest of the whole coalition.

The coalition was headed by a tribe leader, the ‘knowledgeable' who acted as a judge to sort out disputes between various tribes. The ‘knowledgeable' and his family were obliged to find ways to ensure external and internal security and improve adherence to the coalition by reporting to the shaikh of the tribe. In turn, the shaikhs were responsible for the social improvement of individuals within their tribes, which in turn involved the head of the clan within families.

The cultural structure of the coalition created decentralised political and strategic management for each tribe to follow. Also, each tribe representative participated within his own society ‘domestically' or interacted with other coalitions ‘internationally'. Based on strong cultural grounds, the following blueprint can be a source of democracy for states with a tribal or ethnic societal structure:

First, each tribe should conduct its own election to choose representatives, who can be elected for two consecutive four-year terms with a one-term pause period if one is to be re-elected. Each tribe will choose two parliament representatives, who have to possess not less than a bachelor's degree, in the local government and the federal government.

Second, tribe members should elect another three members within the tribe, one possessing a doctorate, one with a masters and the third with a bachelor's degree, to perform the duties of civil servants. The individual with a doctorate will serve as head of a civil servant organisation, the masters degree-holder will serve as a deputy and the bachelor degree-holder will serve as a head of department.

Backup system

However, large coalitions or tribes should have four representatives with the fourth individual having a masters degree. Small tribes should have two elected representatives with any of the above qualifications.

Third, each federal province should elect three representatives, one with a doctorate and two with masters degrees, to serve in ministries of the federal executive government.

Fourth, the ruling families should be prominent and effective and serve society by functioning as a safeguard and a backup system. They should have the power to observe and report to a specialist organisation ‘Dewan' so that their observations are taken seriously and followed up.

Members of the ruling family aged over 30 can recommend individuals for limited grants using a computerised system to avoid duplication. A grant will not be made to an individual more than once every three months. Depending on their level of professionalism, they have the right to observe and offer suggestions about the organisation they are serving in.

In addition, the Dewan headed by the ruling family should monitor fair tribal employment and supervise the rotation of the tribe representative within government organisations.

Finally, in keeping with tradition, international relations and security should be left to the ‘knowledgeable' and his family while the posts of head of state, head of the executive branch, foreign ministry, federal or regional provinces, ministry of defence and armed forces should be left to the ruling families.

The great value of tribal democracy is giving individuals the incentive to develop. This, in turn, creates a healthy environment for the development of family and society.

Dr Mansour Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan lectures in political science at the American University of Sharjah.

Gulf News
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