I’ve long believed that a style of governance that has evolved over centuries in one part of the world isn’t necessarily suitable for export to ours. The Arab world is not a monolith. Our countries may be bound by language, culture and religion but each has its own unique history, current circumstances, and aspirations. A system of cannot be ‘one size fits all’.
The model of governance in my own country the United Arab Emirates is specific to it yet it has produced such phenomenal results in terms of economic development and lifestyle that it is now being studied by academics and researchers seeking the secret of its success. However, there is one denominator common to all good governments and that is strength.
By this I mean governments that are not afraid to make decisions for the benefit of all and confidently act upon them. This does not mean they should cross the line to become authoritarian or oppressive.
But just as governments should have parameters on power, so should citizens. People-power is often lauded and, indeed, there is nothing wrong with public protest, in principle. It’s only when demonstrations cripple a country - preventing travellers from reaching airports, shop owners from opening their businesses and children from pursuing their education - that they open the door to anarchy - the antithesis of liberty.
Similarly, the right to strike is enshrined in most democratic systems but prolonged strikes can also impinge on peoples’ freedom. For instance, a series of strikes caused the former British Prime Minister Ted Heath to proclaim five states of emergency.
The winter of 1978/79 – dubbed ‘the winter of discontent’ – saw the paralysis of Britain. Lorry drivers picketed the ports and highways. Soon train drivers, ambulance drivers, school caretakers, airport staff, grave diggers and garbage collectors followed suit. The became so bad that bodies awaiting burial were piled up in factories when there was nowhere else to put them. Mountains of rat-infested rubbish defaced Leicester Square in the heart of London.
When ’The Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher took over she set about stripping power from the unions and hauled the country on to a positive economic track. Her tough stance on foreign policy also raised Britain’s international profile, enabling it to punch above its weight.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin also exemplifies how a tough leader can turn a drowning nation around. A former KGB head, Putin was anointed by Boris Yeltsin in 1999 when he became acting president of a country that was suffering from crime, corruption, inflation, a credit crunch and a deepening economic depression.
Just as Thatcher stripped power from the unions, Putin tackled the oligarchs and gangsters that were depleting his country of its wealth and terrorizing its citizens. Today, he is popular at home for his handling of the economy and for his efforts to re-establish Russia as a major player on the world stage. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk is yet another hero. He is credited with plummeting Turkey into the 20th century using a large dose of tough love and is still revered by most Turks.
Some countries are burdened by additional obstacles to good governance, stemming from ethno-political sectarianism. Northern Ireland immediately springs to mind, where last ditch efforts are currently underway to forge a power-sharing National Assembly between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists.
This constituent country of the United Kingdom was plagued by violence for decades and at times was almost ungovernable. With so many lives lost or destroyed primarily due to religious differences, there are surely lessons to be drawn.
In a perfect world, leaders should be chosen on the basis of their leadership qualities – personal character, abilities and experience – rather than their sectarian allegiances. If a leader doesn’t work on behalf of all sections of community and strive to be impartial then inevitably cracks will form. This may sound idealistic but there are precedents.
John Kennedy is one of America’s most popular former presidents yet he sprang from a minority Catholic population. His family were, in fact, staunchly Catholic but prior to being elected Kennedy allayed voters’ fears by famously saying “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic…” Kennedy was also tough as evidenced by his firm stance over the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and his championship of civil rights.
Conversely, in 1992, the predominantly Catholic Philippines voted for Fidel Ramos, a Protestant, who worked to mend bridges with separatist groups and revived his country’s spirit of nationalism.
During a time of a leadership with the ability to unify is essential. As the Irish playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde once said, “The worst form of tyranny the world has ever known is the tyranny of the weak over the . It is the only tyranny that lasts”.