Thoughts on Democracy

Two weeks of travel through United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar provided us with quite a different perspective on the world. For one, the United States seemed a long way away and less relevant than we normally assume. Dubai is an entrepot for trade and commerce between and among Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Other than star architects, it was hard to see what America had provided to these countries. The big revelation, however, was the speed of development in Dubai and Doha, cities that went from spits of sand to masses of skyscrapers practically overnight. Muscat in Oman is on the same curve, although their height restriction on buildings will better preserve the character of the city. These countries are able to move so fast because 1)they have oil or gas wealth and 2)they are the fiefdoms of a single family, which has ceded total control to a single ruler. While the U.S. is dithering and debating, unable to build a railroad or tunnel or fix its bridges, the Gulf Coast countries are building airports, deep sea ports, luxury residential developments (even a Trump resort). Are the citizens unhappy they don’t have a free press (the ruling family controls that, too) or get to vote for their leaders? No, because they have free housing, education and medical care and almost a guaranteed income stream. There was barely a murmur during Arab Spring, and when some rowdies chose to protest, they were given jobs in the home security force! Why fight when you can buy someone off?
As so much of the world turns to autocratic leaders, you wonder if the liberal democracy espoused by the U.S. is still the wave of the future. It was our naiveté about this that contributed to the continuing disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq. Shouldn’t we let other countries govern themselves as they, themselves, determine, based on their own history and culture?
The perceived flaw in the GCC world is the fact that only 10-15% of residents are citizens, entitled to the fruits of the oil/gas/mineral wealth. 35% are expatriate workers, engaged in commercial affairs, while 50% are workers from India and other third-world countries, with no rights to speak of. Presumably the workers, mostly in construction, are making more money than if they stayed in India; but there is no way for them, or any of the expats, to become citizens or stay once their productivity declines. This ensures continued wealth and success for native Emiratis, Omanis and Qataris and is somehow reminiscent of Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy. It certainly recalls the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians, with the major difference that the Palestinians aren’t immigrants to Israel.
How this all can lead to world harmony is a bigger subject than I can tackle here; but any large philosophical given has to be, the world will be made up of a patchwork of governing systems, every group of people must self-determine their own system, and America’s campaign to export democracy everywhere is, at best, misguided.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *