In United Arab Emirates, Sharjah’s Sheikh Talks Democracy

In United Arab Emirates, Sharjah’s Sheikh Talks Democracy
View of Sharjah, UAE, Oct. 17, 2012 (photo by Flickr user mfahad licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates—Demands for democratic reform in the Arab world over the past five years have met with a range of responses. In most of the countries where a wave of uprisings toppled regimes beginning in December 2010, the process and its aftermath proved traumatic. In some cases it has been devastating.

The segment of the Arab world that survived the fury of pro-democracy revolts most effectively was the one ruled by monarchs, whether kings, princes or emirs. These countries have been mostly able to withstand the winds of revolution, at times by accommodating demands for democracy with modest and often disappointing reforms, at times by brutally repressing democracy movements and at times by a combination of the two.

That’s why when I was invited to attend a government-sponsored communications forum as a guest of the Emirate of Sharjah, one of the members of the United Arab Emirates, the last topic I expected to hear discussed was the need for democratic reform. Even more surprising was the fact that the man who brought up the subject at the forum was the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi.

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