The Doha Debates

The Doha Debates

I took part last Wednesday in renowned broadcaster Tim Sebastian”s Doha Debates Show, which is shot in the Qatari capital and broadcast monthly on the BBC World channel.


The show is exciting, as it is based on a debate between two teams of speakers on a certain issue. It is attended by an audience of those concerned with the issue and they vote for one team.


Democracy in the Arab world was the topic of the debate. Lebanese media personality Mai Shedyak and former Iraqi ambassador to Britain Salah al-Sheleikhi were of the viewpoint that democratic transformation is in full swing in several Arab countries.


I and Dr. Mustafa al-Hamarna, former director of the Jordanian University“s Strategic Studies Center, were on the other team. We underlined that the Arab world is witnessing deterioration in political and civil freedoms and an escalation in restrictions imposed on political competition.


Sebastian ran the debate with his usual technique that includes both quick questions and search for contradictions in proofs provided by speakers. Shedyak and Shekheili”s indicated that the vitality of the Arab street and the gradual reform steps in Arab societies were the best proof provided by their team.


Hamarna and I underlined that democracy has four unfulfilled components: transition of power, balance between legislative, judicial and executive institutions, ability to bring rulers to account and the presence of a real chance for peaceful opposition to reach power through ballots.


The audience intensively took part in the debate and had various comments. Some said the Arabs are still unready for democracy and others were convinced that democracy is a legitimate right and dream that has not been fulfilled yet.


On the other hand, the debate showed that the issue of democracy is not a top priority in the Arab world even if it figured high in the list of priorities. This was proved by recent opinion polls.


The top priorities nowadays are security and achieving a sufficient degree of progress that could ensure a decent life for the people. We should admit that we, as democracy advocates, failed so far to establish a link between society progress and democracy.


Almost two thirds of the audience voted for al-Hamarna and Hamzawi”s viewpoint that casts doubt on the Arab democratic transformation chances.


The debate ended with loud applause. We all applauded for our continuous inability to place the Arab societies on the road of democracy, the best system for managing the relation between the rulers and the ruled.