Monday, May 23, 2011

GCC democracy reforms "urgent"

On the op-ed page of Gulf News, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah writes,
[P]olitical reform is the most urgent challenge facing the six Arab Gulf states but it is unlikely that the Arab Spring will make these states more democratic for two reasons.

First, the tragic events in Bahrain have had a profound negative impact on political reform movement in the region. Second, it is becoming amply clear that forces of status quo in the Gulf states are stronger than forces of change at this moment in history. Hence, although democratisation is badly needed, it should not be expected any time soon in the Gulf.
...Bahrain had the best opportunity to implement constitutional monarchy. Instead political reform experienced a huge setback not just in Bahrain but in the rest of the Gulf.

This was a shattering experience and a bad example of political reform. The lesson for the other Gulf states is that hasty democratisation opens up a Pandora's box into the unknown. Instantly, regime survival and political stability became priority number one.

The only way to keep stability is to energise forces of the status quo which is nearly on full alert throughout the Gulf. Continuity, not change, has always been the preferred wisdom in the largely conservative Gulf. Many believe that the old way is still the best way. Although not totally immune to winds of change the Gulf states are pulling the huge resources at their disposal to stop forces of change from picking traction.
The fact of the matter is that most of the Gulf states are not at their best when it comes to freedom and democracy. Indeed while they figure high on the Human Development Index the Gulf states rank badly when it comes to freedom and democracy index.

This means eventually the Gulf states have to attend to the issue of political reform.
One wonders if writing an op-ed calling for political reform is the same as petitioning your government for political reform.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdullah is professor of Political Science at UAE University.

Read the op-ed in full here.

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