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Arab World: Between Democracy and Monarchy

Arab Leaders

The crises ravaging some Arab countries due to the political crises instigated by a young Tunisian graduate who burnt himself have been in the front burner. The unprecedented protests and demonstrations following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest against police corruption and ill-treatment in Tunisia have continued to vibrate in the Muslim World of the North Africa and the Middle-East.

Surprisingly most of the countries that are hard-hit by the nationwide protests had sit-tight leaders who have outlived their usefulness in political systems that they claimed were democratic. The protests are largely about the need for democratisation rather than on high rate of unemployment or poverty level, except in Tunisia, where poor economic environment was a major factor for the revolution.

Democracy is recognised as a system of government in which the people, through consensus or representations exercise equal control over issues affecting them as the citizens. Equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy. The Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia on December 18, 2010 marked the beginning of what is now tagged the ‘Revolution’ or ‘Days of Rage’ in the Arab World. The incidence was followed by nationwide protest forcing the ousting of President Ben Ali and the resignation of Prime Minister Ghannouchi while political prisoners were released. The nationwide demonstration in Egypt forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign with a set of army officers leading the new cabinet.

Similar incidences occurred in Algeria with major protests and road-blockings forcing the government to lift about two decade state-of-emergency imposed on that country. While President Saleh of Yemen promised not to seek re-election in the next election coming up in 2013, President Assad of Syria was quick to announce major reforms for political participation of the citizenry in government. Libya’s situation is dicey as the country continues to witness armed revolt and rebels’ occupations of major cities, turning the agitations into bloody and deadly confrontations between rebels and pro-Ghadafi after the resignation of top officials of government. While those leaders claim to be democrats, their Executive Powers are constitutionally linked to a single political movement in their respective countries which influence their dictatorial tendencies.

Meanwhile in the same Arab World are countries that practice constitutional monarchy and yet their people enjoy the best of amenities and have high-standard of living. Monarchy is a form of government in which supreme authority is vested in a single individual and usually hereditary figure whose powers can be absolute or acts as ordinary figurehead. Though there are strict hereditary successions in some system, elective monarchies are found in some countries where an assembly of king-makers elects a new monarch out of a pool of eligible candidates. The Vatican is a clear example of this where the Pope, sovereignty of the Vatican City, as the head of State and the head of the Catholic Church, is elected by the College of Cardinals.

A concept of constitutional monarchy is ascribed to modern kingdoms including that of United Kingdom. Absolute monarchy like in the Vatican is retained in Arab world and is practiced in Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab emirates. The monarch or the Head of Government in this regard personally exercises power in concert with other institutions.

But looking at Arab countries that have constitutional monarchies, sometimes with absolute power bestowed on the rulers, they still have better systems with exciting welfare packages and favorable working environment where foreign investors and immigrants are proud to call second homes. We can associate those stable monarchies with their peaceful and tourist cities like Mecca, Dubai, Amman, Kuwait, Jiddah, Doha, Rabat among others that witness large influx of foreign investors and immigrants who eke out living from the conducive environments. The economies of those countries are more stable and better than most countries in Africa and Asia that practice democracy.

Some monarchs, due to the current agitations in their regions, have conceded to provide more economic incentives and political reforms to further improve the well-being of their people. King Abdullah of Jordan was smarter as he sacked his Prime Minister after a minor demonstration and promised to undertake more reforms. The Sultan Qaboos of Oman announced major economic concession. King Abdullahi of Saudi Arabia on return to his country from medical treatment approved huge financial packages to stimulate the economy and provide more welfare to the people. While King Mohammed VI of Morocco provides Political concessions, King Hamad of Bahrain agrees to more economic concessions and improvement of welfare of the people.

Some of those Arab countries, apart from their professed religion of Islam have huge oil reserves. They are among most-developed economies in their respective continents. Their exchange rates are stable and have high per capita income and gross domestic products (GDP). Apart from having relatively high Human Development Index, they are classified as high-income developing economies. Their investments at home and abroad are shining examples of how a government should serve the interest of its people and environments with stable power supply, flow of potable water, superb health facilities, standard educational system, cultural and political stability, good transportation, enviable housing schemes, buoyant economy and financial prudence that are attested to by global financial institutions.

For an average African or Asian or even from particular European nations who lives in poverty-ridden and corrupt-infested society, any form of government could be welcomed if it could provide the basic necessity of life and good standard of living with resources to meet basic human needs.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in March 2011 in some media including The Punch, Thisday, Daily Trust, People’s Daily, Leadership, National Mirror, Sunday Tribune, New Nigerian, Daily Independent and Daily Champion

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Yushau Shuaib


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