3/3/2024
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Tribal Societies and the Illusion of Democracy: Why We Need to Re-think Our Assumptions.
by Ali Osman
Wednesday May 3, 2023


These countries have implemented policies and governance models that have led to stability and economic development.

Democratization has been a popular theme in academic research on governance, but its success in tribal societies has been questionable. While democracy may be a suitable form of governance in some societies, it may not necessarily be the best fit for all. This article explores the success of non-democratic governance in tribal societies, with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Rwanda, and UAE.

In recent years, these countries have made significant progress in areas such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare, despite not being democratic. These countries have implemented policies and governance models that have led to stability and economic development. For instance, in 2021, Saudi Arabia ranked 14th in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index, reflecting the country's success in attracting foreign investment.

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In Saudi Arabia, for example, the government has launched the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the country's economy and reduce its dependence on oil. One of the key pillars of the plan is the development of the tourism sector, which includes initiatives such as the Makkah Route project. This project aims to promote Islamic heritage and culture by developing the infrastructure and services of the historic routes to Makkah, with a focus on improving the experience of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. In addition, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in infrastructure, with the opening of theme parks, historic sites and opening up the country for investment and other attractions. These initiatives have not only helped to attract more tourists to the country but have also created new job opportunities and boosted the economy.

Similarly, Qatar has achieved significant success through non-democratic governance, with a focus on promoting its cultural heritage and identity. The Qatar National Vision 2030 has been a key initiative in this regard, aiming to promote social development, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability while preserving the country's cultural heritage. Qatar has also made strides in tourism, hosting major international events such as the FIFA World Cup 2022 and investing in world-class museums, universities, and infrastructure. These efforts have contributed to Qatar's economic growth and global prominence, demonstrating the potential for alternative forms of governance to achieve success in tribal societies.

Rwanda is another example of a non-democratic government that has achieved impressive economic and social development. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the government implemented a series of reforms that focused on national unity, reconciliation, and economic development. The government's Vision 2020 aims to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by promoting private sector growth and investment in infrastructure.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as a global hub for business and tourism, thanks to its focus on investing in infrastructure and promoting economic diversification. The country's leadership has been successful in attracting foreign investment, particularly through initiatives such as the development of their airport and the Emirates airline. Additionally, the UAE's ports, such as the Dubai Ports World, have become key players in global trade. The UAE's Vision 2021 aims to continue promoting economic diversification, social development, and environmental sustainability, while also preserving the country's cultural heritage. Through these efforts, the UAE has achieved remarkable economic and social progress under its non-democratic governance.

While the success of non-democratic governance in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Rwanda, and the UAE is notable, it is also important to acknowledge the failures of democratic initiatives in other countries. In particular, the United States' attempts to promote democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have faced significant challenges.

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 aimed to overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and establish a democratic government, but the country has since faced ongoing political instability, sectarian violence, and corruption. The official death toll of the war in Iraq is estimated to be over 600,000, including both Iraqi civilians and military personnel, as well as foreign soldiers. The 2019 protests in Iraq highlighted the government's failure to provide basic services, including electricity and clean water, leading to widespread public discontent.

Similarly, the US-led intervention in Afghanistan aimed to remove the Taliban regime and establish a democratic government. Despite over 20 years of efforts, Afghanistan has faced ongoing conflict, corruption, and political instability. The official death toll of the war in Afghanistan was approximately 2,400 American soldiers, 80,000 Afghan civilians, and more than 66,000 Afghan military and police personnel. However, the Taliban's swift takeover of the country in 2021 has completely reversed any progress towards democracy, leading to grave concerns about the future of human rights and civil liberties in Afghanistan.

In 2011, the US and its allies supported the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, with the goal of establishing a democratic government. However, this led to the country's descent into political chaos and violence, with various factions competing for power. The lack of security and political stability has resulted in a significant loss of life and a humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 30,000 people killed and many more displaced or lacking access to basic services.

These failures highlight the challenges of promoting democracy in societies with complex cultural and political dynamics. It is important to acknowledge that democracy may not be the best fit for all societies, and alternative forms of governance may be necessary.

Academic research has shown that democratization in tribal societies can be difficult. In "The Challenges of Democratization in Tribal Societies: The Case of Yemen," Khaled Fattah examines the difficulties of democratization in Yemen, which is a tribal society, and argues that traditional values and structures can make the process of democratization challenging. Similarly, "Democracy and Tribal Societies: A Study of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria," by O. J. Eribo and Hakeem Onapajo, explores the relationship between democracy and tribal societies in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and finds that tribal societies can be resistant to democratic values and practices. Mahmood Monshipouri also examines the challenges of democratization in tribal societies in his article, "The Democratic Conundrum in Tribal Societies," and argues that the cultural values and traditions of these societies can make it difficult to introduce democratic principles.

While critics argue that non-democratic governments can be prone to corruption and lack accountability, the success of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Rwanda, and the UAE demonstrate that alternative forms of governance can lead to stability and economic development. These countries have implemented policies and governance models that have led to improved infrastructure, social programs, and economic growth. Furthermore, their focus on promoting national unity, improving education, and investing in their people has contributed to their success.

It is important to note that any form of governance can face challenges, and non-democratic governments are no exception. However, the success of these countries shows that alternative forms of governance can work effectively, especially in societies with unique cultural values and traditions that may not align with democratic principles. Therefore, exploring and implementing alternative forms of governance that better reflect these values can lead to greater stability and development.


By Ali Osman
[email protected]


 





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