Human development precedes democracy

Mohammed Al Shaikh

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Democracy is not always the perfect solution in relations between government and the people and as long as societies do not have their most important elements in place: individualism and abandoning sectarian and tribal affiliations.

Sectarian voting

When sectarian and tribal people vote for a candidate, they don’t choose him because they think he is the best and the most capable of politically and economically leading the country. They vote to whoever represents the group, whether on a religious sectarian level or an ethnic and tribal level. I am totally convinced that societies which believe in tribal or sectarian affiliations as a primary identity before individualism will most likely lead to social unrest where the majority, whether sectarian or tribal, deprives the minorities that are different from them of their rights.

This may develop into a civil war, which only God knows its duration. That’s why I fully believe that human development and freeing an individual of his or her inherited sectarian or tribal affiliations are an essential condition which democracy cannot be achieved without.

Failed states

The Arab revolutions, which President Obama called the Arab Spring and appointed Qatar to foment through its funds and media led to a lot of bloodshed, massacres and human and financial disasters, which continue till today.

Qarar is a small state that’s limited in population and geography and if we take it as an example and if Hamad bin Khalifa – who sponsored the so-called Arab Spring – establishes democracy there as the media he backs demands and holds elections, tribal affiliations will play a key role in empowering this or that tribe. This would be for reasons based on the candidate’s tribal affiliations and not on his competence. In fact of all Gulf countries, Qatar is the one where the majority of its small population has tribal affiliations.

Libya is another example. The war that broke out there after the fall of President Gaddafi is going on between different tribes and groups with different religious ideologies. They seek with the force of arms to possess power either for religious reasons, like the Muslim Brotherhood, or for tribal motives. I do not think that Libya would end up democratic even if the war continues for another 100 years unless one of the contenders imposes himself by the power of arms and exclude others.

Corruption in democracies

The West along with some Arab intellectuals still believes that democracy offers the best solution for Arab countries. They overlook the mindset of Arabs who give priority to sectarian and tribal loyalty over national loyalty. All experiences which tried a democratic solution have failed drastically, and many such states have ended up among the most corrupt countries, as is confirmed by Transparency International.

Iraq which is an oil-rich country that enjoys resources which other countries do not have and which also has a proud historical heritage is an example. It is suffering form from corruption, insecurity and several more of the era’s maladies. On the other hand, Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had never claimed to be democratic and despite that their people are reconciled with their leaders. These countries also enjoy security, stability and relative welfare especially when compared to Iraq that has similar economic resources. If things are measured in terms of outcomes, why have Gulf States succeeded without democracy, while states that imported democracy from the West failed?

Thus, we must be convinced of a truth which stipulates that human development, educating the individual and strengthening individualism come first. When Arabs get rid of sectarian or tribal tendencies, then it may be possible for one to think of the democratic solution as a way to regulate the social contract between the government and the governed.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd

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