jump to navigation

Arabian tribes and voting issues 21, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tribal voting in the recent Poet of Millions talent contest perfectly highlights issues facing those seeking full democratic elections on the Arabian Peninsula.

The hugely popular Poet of Millions competition (the Gulf’s equivalent of ‘Pop Idol’) recently hit the headlines throughout the Middle East after a Saudi women – Hissal Hilal – won through to the final with controversial, politically and socially based poetry. Specifically, she heavily – if eloquently – criticised Saudi’s infamous religious police. This caused predictable uproar in conservative Saudi Arabia where women are – to put it crudely – to be neither seen nor heard.

Yet in the final, despite being awarded higher marks by the judges than the eventual winner, she came third. The winner instead was Nasser Al Ajami from Kuwait who triumphed thanks to 40% of the final and overall mark being decided by a public vote.

The Al Ajami tribe is one of the largest and most important tribes in the Gulf. In this instance, they embarked on a multi-million pound rigorously organised campaign to make sure Nasser won.

The National reports that the campaign began three weeks before the final event with a fundraising campaign. The depth and breadth of the vast Al Ajami tribe was plumbed and money and support sought. Apparently, somewhere in the region of £5million was raised. This was used to advertise Nasser and to send “bulk text messages through the country’s telecommunications companies to encourage Kuwaitis to vote.” This is in addition to Al Ajamis themselves voting multiple times. Naif Al Ajami, a distant relative, spent roughly £500 on voting 400 times.

Whilst the tribal nature of Arabian society is well known, this instance offers a perfect example of exactly what a tribe in action can do. This has direct relevance for those seeking democracy in the Gulf.

Kuwait, for example, is the most democratic country in the Gulf. Yet whilst this is praise-worthy, its Parliamentary system has been in a state of absolute gridlock for years. Other Gulf nations look to Kuwait with trepidation when they see the stagnating and divisive effects that ‘democracy’ can bring.

Kuwait has tried to sort out these difficulties by cutting the number of election districts from 25 to 5. This was to make it more difficult for richer politicians to buy votes as well as to break the monopoly of tribes on whole districts. Yet the power of the tribe could not be broken. Still tribes would (illegally) host ‘primaries’ to make sure that tribal members could have a ‘consensus candidate’.

None of this is to say that democracy is intrinsically incompatible with Gulf society, only to point out once more [can it be pointed out enough?] that if intrinsically Western ideas such as modern democracy are implemented elsewhere, they need to be adapted to indigenous systems.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


1. Zilfa - 11, May 2010

A Good article. True, tribalism is still an obstacle to elections in Arabian Gulf countries.

On a different note, I do have to comment about this sentence:
“This caused predictable uproar in conservative Saudi Arabia where women are – to put it crudely – to be neither seen nor heard.”
I find the sentence misleading and vague especially when your audience is an international one who does not know the inner workings of Saudi Arabia’s society. Yes, you did say ‘crudely’ to avoid generalization, but where is she crudely not seen or heard? On television do you mean? or in general social life? There is a big big difference between both and a foreign reader who is not familiar with Saudi culture will not be able to hint that difference.

As a Saudi woman who is familiar with the culture I would understand your sentence like this:

This caused predictable uproar in conservative Saudi Arabia where the majority of women– to put it crudely – do not appear publicly on television especially in a program related to poetry which is in its public form is dominated by men.

However, a foreigner would see the vagueness and ‘passiveness’ in your sentence ‘to be neither seen nor heard. ‘ leaves a wide space for dark, inhumane, and exaggerated interpretations.

I am not claiming here that Saudi women have a proper and normal presence in the media nor in the Saudi public space, nor that they are treated as equal citizens, but on the social and private level the standard among their families, friends and social acquaintance — men or women, is that they are seen and heard. It would only take you a walk in Jeddah or alDhahran’s restaurants, shopping malls, or companies to see that (and even Riyadh to a lesser extent) That is why a person who writes to a foreign audience about any of the Orients needs to be specific.

davidbroberts - 12, May 2010

Thanks for that eloquent and intelligent comment. You are correct, I ought not to have used a ‘region specific’ idiom. I’ll keep that in mind…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: