Tunisians have had enough with their president and their revolution has forced him to resign and flee. Algerians are rioting as well, though without the media-grabbing suicides. The Egyptians are desperate for ‘change' and so are the Yemenis.
Many are quick to cite this as proof that Arabs are fed up with being told what to do. They want constitutional reforms that would guarantee free elections, an independent judiciary, free press etc. I find these correlations out of touch or perhaps too idealistic.
Tunisians and Algerians are hungry. The Egyptians and Yemenis are right behind them. Mohammad Bouazizi didn't set himself on fire because he couldn't blog or vote. People set themselves on fire because they can't stand seeing their family wither away slowly, not of sorrow, but of cold stark hunger.
Even if my detractors would agree with this analysis they will still advocate democracy as a means to ensuring that this state of desolate poverty never happens again. The transnational saying the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know comes to mind. How many revolutions/overthrows have the likes of Iraq and Pakistan gone through over the past 50 years? And, more importantly, to what end?
The mother of Iraq's late president, Saddam Hussain, was a laundress. Saddam grew up in very harsh circumstances, which probably had a lot to contribute to the zero sum game manner by which he ruthlessly ruled and perhaps taints the whole pan-Arab project more than its own failures.
Had Saddam grown in a prosperous nation — if any nation could've been, that would've been Iraq — then he'd probably be the head of the Army, a member of parliament, or just a really successful lawyer. It wasn't the failure of democracy, but the political instability and economic fragility that surrounded him that made him the tyrant he very much was.
Kuwait's democratic trials have recently gone through an intense period, which many believe will hasten the actualisation of the constitutional monarchy it seems to be headed towards.
A Kuwaiti friend recently told me that he believes the next prime minister will not be a member of the House of Al Sabah. In other words, the ruling house will rule as emir/prince and crown prince and the more managerial role of prime minister would be given to someone the parliament could hold accountable more easily.
A prominent Gulf writer told me that he believes that Kuwait is going through what the rest of the Gulf nations will eventually go through. I don't agree with him. Mainly, due to the unique circumstances by which Al Sabah came to rule — by the request of Kuwait's prominent families and in the capacity of rulers who settle disputes. But also due the social and economic circumstances of the other Gulf states.
A very interesting, albeit private, analysis of what would happen in the UAE if the Federal National Council members were democratically elected found that the outcome would either be tribal or sectarian. These differences are exactly what the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan set to eradicate in his quest to build a modern nation.
If after 40 years, his people just voted the same as they did when they sided with their own people before the union then this is a step backwards, not forward.
Traitor to his people
Many will contest the findings of this study. I urge them to look at the Arab world. As one Lebanese friend told me last week, no Shiite will ever vote for Sa'ad Hariri even if he agreed with him because he'd be considered a traitor to his people.
Former US president George W. Bush's relentless no-holds-barred push for democracy for all serves as a timely reminder of that. The neoconservatives promoted democracy as a makeshift happy meal that would make everything OK. Only the toy that came with that meal was the actual driving keys to the car. Who wants the kid to drive? Who's really happy that Hezbollah and Hamas achieved a political role? Who really thinks that, as individuals, the people of Lebanon and Palestine were wholly aware of the decisions they were making? Were there any televised debates as opposed to fiery speeches? Who knew what Hezbollah was going to do about the deteriorating infrastructure in the south of Lebanon, let alone the rest of the country? Who knew what Hamas's economic plans for Gaza and the West Bank were? It's worth mentioning that this isn't meant to shower praise on the Hariri and company or PLO/Fatah. They have failed as much in their respective countries as their respective counterparts.
The point is that individual maturity is important when contemplating democratic reforms. And perhaps what the Lebanese and Palestinians really wanted all along isn't rhetoric-heavy wrap-the-town-in-banners elections, but just security, stability and prosperity. And for that, and while I pray that the people of Tunisia find a better future after a terrible past and a bloody month, I say to Mr. Democracy: Thanks but no thanks.
Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati current affairs commentator.