Thursday, June 19, 2008


By Olfa Tantawi

Democracy, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, is a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Qatar is one place where this is evident. It is widely known that the Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, assumed power in 1995 when, as heir apparent, he ousted his father, Amir Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, in a bloodless coup. This notion of a coup is a Western perspective. Since, a bloodless coup in a tribal context means an overwhelming consent of a need to change the leadership and a wide approval for the new nominee or heir to ascend to power.

In Western democracies presidents are not elected because they have sound foreign policies, rather it is the economy and the promise of wealth that gets them to office. So when the per capita income in a country is around $94,000, who needs elections or votes? This is an oil based style of democracy.

Meanwhile, democracy in the United States is as bright as the shining sun of Arizona or Florida. Human rights are protected. Freedom of expression is cherished. In such a free world, the free media act as the guardians of society providing information for the people to make crucial decisions.

However, the free media is also a business that often chooses - with a free will - not to tell or at least minimize all news that might upset their audiences. It is said that readers or television viewers, with their own free will, thanks to their tiny remote control, are shutting their eyes, ears and minds when the news is anything that is not of local concern.

A misinformed democracy can result in the loss of thousands of young American men and women based on a threat of some weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. It can lead to the election of presidents with bad policies and economic strategies that cost the people their jobs and homes.

Within every democracy it seems there is tyranny of some sort. Is it the tyranny of the individual whose concern with his very own interests blinds him/her to the wider context and the real threats? Or is it the tyranny of the businesses that create needs to be satisfied and a worldview for sale?

What is democracy really? Is it an Amir’s will to distribute wealth among his subjects and to build a modern state? Or is it a people’s will to have a say and to decide their own children’s destiny?

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