Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Too much democracy

This article was printed yesterday and I have been reflecting over the past 24 hours whether to post it because, frankly, I have only snotty things to say about it and I don't think that's necessarily appropriate. However, I decided to post and to ruminate. I will start with this quote:

“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?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

Kuwait used to be number one in everything. Really? Kuwait has more culture than Damascus? Kuwait has more political power than Egypt under Nasser? Kuwait may have been number one, but I have to ask ... compared to what?

Second, too much democracy? Women got the vote in Kuwait in 2006. Yes, it is now 2008. That is two years. They continue to enforce a strict gender-conforming dress code as well. So, there is democracy but it appears that those who participate in it are ... well, elite men. Which is not to say that the Kuwaitis quoted in the article are "wrong", it is just that only a very narrow perspective on the political climate is represented. Do you think Sri Lankan domestic workers would also say that an excess of democracy is holding the country back? It seems like lazy journalism to quote a few rich guys and then say "Kuwaitis".

Finally, there is this tragedy:

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north — once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model — have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

This is not a quote, this is the reporter's interpretation. So it may be imbued with his perspective, as an American (I think - Westerner at the very least), on the failures of the Bush administration's "democracy promotion" policies. But if we take his statement at face value - that Kuwaitis feel that democracy is a Western import that has been a disappointment - then, well, that is a sorry state of affairs. Because clearly a disenchantment with democracy will not lead to a restriction in rights for oil tycoons in Kuwait ... it will lead to a restriction in rights for domestic workers-women-cross dressers and others whose voices are already marginalized in the political process.

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