Thursday, May 8, 2008

on the excess of democracy in Kuwait

Yesterday I wrote this post expressing skepticism about this article.

Then the Arab Reform Bulletin arrived in my inbox and I saw this interview with Ali al Rashed, a member of Kuwait's National Assembly (Parliament) which, coincidentally, addressed many of the assertions in Worth's article. For instance:

What do you say to accusations that the National Assembly has become an obstacle to economic growth?

This is not true, and I do not agree with it. The government merely wants to pin its own shortcomings in achieving growth on the National Assembly, and it uses the huge government media outlets to do this. It does this because the Assembly questions the government and holds it accountable on issues such as deficiencies in hospital, road, and housing construction. We ask why the government has no work program and vision for the years ahead.

When we entered the Assembly, we met with His Highness the Emir and the prime minister and asked them to submit any law or economic development plan that would benefit the country and that they wanted the National Assembly to enact. We were ready to hold a special session and to vote upon any plan without delay. The government did not once request that any law be enacted or voted upon. This shows that the neglect was on the part of the government, not the Assembly.

And, ironically enough, this is the same individual whose words opened the Times article:

In a vast, high-ceilinged tent, Ali al-Rashed sounded an anguished note as he delivered the first speech of his campaign for Parliament.

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” he said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

When I read the article, I was initially inclined to think that the quote above was part of a speech implicating democracy in that decline. Based on al Rashed's interview with Carnegie, though, that doesn't seem likely. It seems more likely that al Rashed's words were taken out of context to suggest something he doesn't support - that Kuwaitis blame democracy [whatever all parties involved are using that term to mean] for their stalled economic growth (and a host of other problems).

The Daily Star has a piece that addresses the same issues as the one in the Times, but which also includes some important details about Kuwaiti democracy - namely that political parties are not entirely legal, that candidates must run as independents, and that the National Assembly is not governed by a majority. All pretty important details that lend some insight into the merits of the claim that too much democracy is the problem with Kuwait's economic development.

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