WHY DEMOCRACY NEED NOT BE THE FALL GUY IN KUWAIT FOR ITS VAST RECENT UNDERDEVELOPMENT
By Kevin Stoda, Kuwait
Recently, the International Herald Tribune (May 6, 2008), published on its front page a story by Robert F. Worth entitled, "Democracy Becomes the Fall Guy in Kuwait". Since on 17th of May, Kuwaiti voters are participating in national parliamentary elections, it is certainly an appropriate time to analyze Kuwait Democracy and how it is performing at this junction in history.
Worth began his piece on Kuwait democracy by citing the comments of Ali al-Rashed, who recently gave a speech during his campaign for the National Assembly of Kuwait, in which he said, "'Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,'. . .'What happened?'"
The focus of Worth's article from that point on is about whether having too much democracy in Kuwait is really the reason why international investors and others do not bet on much progress in Kuwait in 2008. This is contrasted with the high levels of foreign investment and hope in the future found in the Qatar and United Arab Emirates, where Dubai and Abu Dhabi are located.
Neither Dubai, Abu Dhabi, nor Qatar have a particularly strong history of democratic development as compared to Kuwait, which was the first country among the small Gulf states to elect its own parliament nearly 50 years ago.
Worth writes that in recent times, "Kuwait has been overshadowed by its dynamic neighbors - Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar - where economies are booming under absolute monarchies. Efforts to reform Kuwait's sclerotic welfare state have stalled in its fractious and divided Parliament, and noisy scandals led the emir to dissolve the chamber last month for the second time in less than two years, forcing new elections yet again."
Moreover, Worth notes that "despite vast oil reserves - the world's fifth-largest in a country smaller than New Jersey - many Kuwaitis complain that their bloated public sector has long neglected the country's public hospitals and schools. Problems with the power grid caused brownouts last summer. Although parts of Kuwait were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1991, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. There are few opportunities for private investment. A self- deprecating motto has gained currency here: Kuwait of the past, Dubai of the present, Qatar of the future."
IS THIS A SORT OF FASCIST ANALYSES OF DEMOCRACY?
Having lived for over 5 years in the Persian Gulf, I feel that certainly the description of Worth's on Kuwait being at once unbelievably rich and at the same time comparatively underdeveloped is often accurate.
On the other hand, I do not quickly fall into the fascist-, communist- or simply misguided- paradigm of blaming democracy for the country of Kuwait's underdevelopment and mismanagement of the past 5 decades.
That would be like blaming democracy for the malaise in Egypt or even of the current Civil War in Iraq we are observing today. It would be like blaming democracy in America for the current regime's mismanagement of society and economy at all levels.
In fact, Worth, too, admits that most Kuwaitis do not blame democracy for the country's malaise and bad management, especially in the areas of (1) lacking economic investment in a variety of sectors, (2) the poor standard of health care in the richest per-capita country in the world, nor (3) the poor educational standards achieved at primary, secondary and tertiary levels to date.
Despite its many shortfalls, as one university business student, Nawaf al-Mutairi, has pointed out, "[But] we know democracy is our last hope. The problem is just that democracy is incremental."
As well, there are some facets of society and some people in the ruling Sabah family who do not like parliament. The 1961 constitution had reduced the power of the Emir.
This distrust among some Kuwaitis and its parliament has been very strong at times. In the last 47 years, the parliament has been shut down by the ruling family's chosen Prime Minister on six separate occasions--and sometimes for many years at a time.