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ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
By Khalaf Al Habtoor

 

Throughout the West, particularly in America, people see all the countries of the Middle East as undemocratic, ruled by capricious leaders who resist change and exploit their people.
This seems especially true in a number of the so-called 'Republics' dotted around the region. These states are often one-party systems, with a powerful leader who makes all the important decisions affecting his country and his people. These decisions are then usually rubber stamped by government ministers and generals who have been appointed by the leader and are entirely dependant on him for the rank and privilege. Where opposition parties do exist, they usually have so many restrictions placed upon them, that they could never mount an effective challenge to the ruling party and its leader. Elections in these countries often see as much as 99% of the electorate voting for the ruling party and its leader - whether they do so or not.
In the main, it is the governments of these states that colour the perceptions of people in Europe and America. They mistakenly lump together all Arab countries and governments under the labels "repressive" and "undemocratic". This is unfortunate, as several of the region's governments serve the interests of their people very well, particularly the governments of the six states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council.

One of the features of the GCC countries is the traditional tribal structure of the Gulf society that makes leaders accessible to their people. Across the Gulf, the tradition of the Majlis, or open meeting, between rulers and their people is held up as an effective form of popular representation. This makes the rulers of the Gulf countries generally very popular with their people. Most of these countries are city-states where the rulers are physically close to their subjects and can often be seen daily participating in the life of the citizens - meeting them in the Majlis and Mosque, at major social and state occasions, attending weddings and sporting events. So close in fact, that the citizens of all these countries identify very closely with their rulers. This has made the GCC one of the least volatile regions in the world; one where people can conduct their lives safely and peaceably.


By investing the wealth, generated by the discovery of oil and gas throughout the Middle East, the governments of the Gulf States have endeavored to better the living standards of their people and bring prosperity and stability to their countries. This cannot be said of other governments in the region, where the wealth derived from their oil has seen no real improvement in ordinary citizen's standard of living or investment in the economic future of their countries. In these countries, oil wealth has enabled a small minority to stay in power at the expense of the rest. This has brought about high level of dissatisfaction that often lead to social unrest and violence.

In comparison to these regimes, the Gulf countries are havens of safety and fairness for their citizens. One Gulf State stands out above all the rest in its attitudes to its citizens' welfare, namely, The United Arab Emirates. Its President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, is regarded at home and abroad as the father of his nation. It was his vision and the help of the former Ruler of Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum that created the United Arab Emirates. The wisdom of these two great men shaped the future of the country and resulted in the UAE becoming one of the safest and most stable countries in the world.

The UAE Government's primary aim is to serve society and ensure the economic future of the country. While there is no effective electoral process, the Majlis system provides a rough and ready democratic forum, at which ordinary citizens can express their approval or disapproval of the government's policies. The country has an excellent judicial system with a codified set of laws that are open to both, nationals and non-nationals. All of this goes a long way in making people feel secure and able to live their lives safe in the knowledge that the government will care for and protect them and their future.

The UAE government wants all of its citizens to enjoy a rich full life. To help them do so, it provides free land for housing, education, healthcare, creates jobs and ensures clean water and electricity for everyone. In its quest to improve living standards and provide services, the government continues to develop the infrastructure of the country. It has put in place a sophisticated telecommunication network, built some of the finest roads in the world, developed new industries and has a fine education system that provides primary, intermediate and university education to all its citizens. All of this has earned the gratitude of the all UAE citizens, for thanks to these initiatives they feel secure in the knowledge that their children will be well educated, well fed and will live almost 20 years longer than their grandparents did and have a bright and secure future.

All this contrasts sharply other governments in the region and even some in the West, who do not show the same level of concern for their citizens' well-being and safety. In these countries, ordinary people are often poorer, highly taxed, have limited access to health care, education and housing and have high unemployment rate - all of which lead to breakdowns in society that are expressed by lawlessness, drug or alcohol abuse, homelessness, divorce and an undermining of family values.

Therefore, it is not surprising that we do not support Western style democracy. For the concern and generosity of the government, allied to our sense of history, our religion and our culture has forged a society that is outward looking and adventurous; with leaders whose guiding principal is a concern for the care and well-being of their people.

All this has given us a fairly egalitarian society, in which all enjoy a very high standard of living, far higher in fact, than that even some of the more developed countries in Europe. By listening to its citizens' concerns, the government has been able to devise long term development plans that will ensure the economic future of the country, keeping it prosperous and secure, no matter how uncertain the future of the region may be. It is good leadership and not Western-style democracy that will prove successful for our people.

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