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The Doha Debates

This House Would Prefer Money to Free Elections (#702)

This House would prefer money to free elections Wednesday November 10 2010?MOTION REJECTED by 37% to 63% Details
The Doha Debates have shown a powerful majority of Arabs pushing for free elections and democracy, in a region where governments routinely shy away from the ballot box. At the latest politically-charged session, young Arabs repeatedly called for democratic rights ? rejecting the notion that they keep quiet about politics in return for the right to make money. ?When do you want democracy?? one Qatari professional was asked. ?Now, ? he replied, without a moment of hesitation, provoking loud applause.
When it came to the vote, 63 percent of the audience turned down the motion: ?This House would prefer money to free elections?, but not before they had heard impassioned arguments on both sides. Speaking for the motion, Dr N Janardhan, a UAE-based political analyst, said many countries, including South Korea had shown that free-market reforms often preceded political freedoms. ?Money is a necessity, ? he said. ?It allows you to survive. Free elections are a luxury.? His views were echoed by Jean-Francois Seznec, a businessman and visiting academic at Georgetown University in Washington, who warned that free elections were no guarantee of stability, especially in the Gulf. ?If you have open microphones in today?s Gulf societies, we will have Islamists take over, and I am not sure they will let you speak out,? he said. Standing against the motion, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the Indian National Congress Party and a former government minister, claimed most countries with highly competitive economies had free elections that could remove under-performing governments. ?Prosperity under a dictatorship cannot be sustained,? he said, adding that ?democracy is a safety valve? you can get more money and more freedom if you move into a democracy - not an autocracy.? He was supported by Egyptian blogger and activist Wael Abbas who addressed audience fears that Islamists could come to power in free elections in his country. ?You need to achieve participatory politics. To do so you need an active civil society, a free media, a reformed educational system away from government controls and political parties that rely on grassroots support.? He added: ?If the government keeps shutting up leftists, Nasserites, liberals and democrats, the Islamists will win.? [56 minutes] Closed Captioning

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  • Episode #101

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  • Episode #102

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  • Episode #701

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  • Episode #703

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  • Episode #704

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  • Episode #705

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  • Episode #706

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  • Episode #801

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  • This House Believes President Assad Must Resign. (#802)

    The reputation of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad came under sustained attack at the latest Doha Debate, where more than 90 percent of the audience called on him to resign. The session provoked tense and often bitter exchanges between panellists, who argued that Assad should stay and reform, and young, predominantly Arab debaters who repeatedly condemned the killing of more than 3,500 people at demonstrations in Syria and the wide-ranging abuse of human rights. In response to suggestions that the uprising was initiated by foreign powers - a version of events, touted widely by the regime - one female audience member declared: "This is a Syrian revolution and it's insulting to keep insisting that it was inspired outside." At the end of the session 91 percent voted for the motion: "This House believes that President Assad must resign" - the single, highest margin of victory in the seven-year history of the debates. But it was apparent from the outset that Arabs had lost patience with the Syrian leader and that the long-term friendship between Doha and Damascus was over. Speaking against the motion, Ammar Waqqaf, member of the UK-based Syrian Social Club, and Kamel Wazne, a political analyst, claimed that the majority of Syrians still supported the president. But a Syrian woman interjected, asking..."Why then does Assad need to take drastic measures against his population, such as killings?" Both speakers said arms were being smuggled across the Jordanian and Turkish borders and used by the Syrian-opposition against the army. Wazne said Washington and its regional allies were behind the unrest in Syria and warned that the demise of the Assad regime would spark sectarian wars in Lebanon and beyond." A new map is being drawn in the Middle East," Wazne claimed. "The United States got defeated in Iraq, and today, the U.S.,Turkey and several Gulf Arab States want Syria to become a new proxy in their effort againstIran," he said. "They want to keep Iran trapped." Wazne condemned Sunday's decision by the Arab League to impose sanctions against Syria and said Damascus needed "time and patience" to achieve democratic reforms. "The sanctions will not solve the issue... they will bring more pain and chaos." Speaking for the motion were Obeida Nahas, a Syrian politician who is a member of the Syrian National Council, and Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security at the Bahrain-based International Institute for Strategic Studies." The Syrian people deserve better than Bashar Assad," said Nahas. "It is high-time for Assad to resign and to be held accountable. Without Assad and his system,Syria can become a beacon for prosperity and democracy." Hokayem added: "After 11 years of Bashar in power, we see no hope for change. Bashar Assad, his brother Maher, his brother-in-law Asef and whoever has blood on their hands must go." Looking at Wazne, he added: "I do not see how Bashar and his clique can get to be part of any reconciliation" [47 minutes]

  • This House has no confidence in Bahrain's promise to reform. (#803)

    Bahrain's ruling family was dealt a blow last night after an audience made up of mainly young Arabs used a globally televised debate to say the monarchy was unlikely to make good their promise of reform. The motion was passed by a resounding 78% in favour and 22% against -a slap in the face for a government promising its people long-awaited political reform. The session, part of the eighth series of the award-winning Doha Debates, a leading platform for free speech in the Arab world, comes just weeks after an official investigation found that Bahraini government security forces had used excessive force and widespread torture against anti-government protesters earlier in the year. Tens of thousands of mainly Shiites took to the streets in Bahrain in February and March demanding political reform and better rights, with some calling for the downfall of the Al Khalifa monarchy. The uprising was brutally crushed by the regime and thousands were arrested and sacked from public and private sector jobs. A government-sponsored inquiry into the unrest, led by respected Egyptian-born human rights lawyer Cherif Bassiouni, made a series of recommendations, which a special commission in Bahrain is studying. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has promised reform. In often sharp exchanges between panellists and audience members, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Christopher Davidson, a Reader of Middle East Politics at Durham University in the UK consistently argued that Bahrain's monarchy were not interested in taking the country forward. Rajab accused the government of repeated human rights violations against its people, while Davidson said the recent Bassiouni report amounted to the government "papering over cracks". "This is yet more window dressing - short- term measures rather than genuine reform," he said. Arguing against the motion, Abdulla Alderazi a lecturer at the University of Bahrain and Khaled Almaeena, Editor-at-Large of Arab News, an English language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, said Bahrain could and should reform. "For any government, reform is a necessity; it's not an option or a choice," Almaeena said. At one point, Ala'a Shehabi, a Bahraini, whose husband has been a political prisoner for 8 months, stood up in the audience and said: "I don't want to live off a whim of a king that decides to jail people." Saudi Arabia, which helped Bahrain put down the protest movement, had become the "counter revolutionary force" in the Arab Spring, Davidson said. "I think one of the most dangerous things in the Arab Spring are the Saudis," added Rajab. Asked a straight question Alderazi, who said he had confidence in Bahrain's promise of reform, nevertheless called for the prime minister to resign after more than 40 years in office. The kingdom, he said repeatedly, needed to move forward. [47 minutes]

  • This House believes Turkey is a bad model for the new Arab states. (#804)

    Istanbul, Turkey: Ankara's human rights and media freedom record came under sustained attack at the latest Doha Debate, as a majority-Turkish audience told Arab states not to follow their country's example. The debate, at Bosphorous (Bogazici) University, overlooking the historic waterway, provoked heated arguments between panelists and audience members before 59% voted for the motion: "This House believes Turkey is a bad model for the new Arab States". Ece Temelkuran, an award-winning Turkish journalist and author, who was recently dismissed from her newspaper, drew applause whenever she cited examples of the government's crackdown on critics, including journalists, students and academics. "Arabs should talk to Arabs about which model is best for them," she said. "They should hear their own voices...Turkey cannot be a model because Arabs already have enough problems." Her co-panelist, Hassan Mneimneh, senior Transatlantic Fellow for Middle East and North Africa at the German Marshall Fund, said Arabs should learn from scores of other models of good governance. And he added: "beware of the use of the Turkish model as a cover for the insertion of Islamism into positions of power where the Islamists would be really entrenched in the Arab world. " Opposing the motion were former Turkish diplomat Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, and Aboubakr Jamai, award-winning Moroccan journalist and co-editor of the Moroccan news website lakome.com. Both argued that the Turkish model had shortcomings, but was a work in progress and therefore offered an example to Arab countries in political turmoil. "This is a workable model for us because I do believe that Islamism can evolve in our countries and because our population relate to this model," said Jamai. Ulgen, said that for reasons of geographic proximity, culture, religion and tradition the Turkish model worked for the Arab world, where Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, long banned by autocratic governments, have achieved significant electoral success. He also drew attention to the popularity of Turkish TV soap operas with Arab audiences. "That," he said, "tells us something about Turkey in the Arab world." [48 minutes]

  • This House believes women will be worse off after the Arab revolutions. (#805)

    Women's prospects in the Middle East are brighter now than before the Arab revolutions, a young audience at the award-winning Doha Debates voted last night. The motion "This House believes women will be worse off after the Arab revolutions" was resoundingly rejected 26% to 74% in a lively debate that repeatedly raised the question of whether women would face new restrictions from the rise of political Islam. In Tunisia, Islamists have already risen to power, while in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the strongest political force with women losing around 50 seats in the new parliament. For the motion was Tunisian women's rights campaigner Khadija Arfaoui and Iman Bibars, co-founder of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, Egypt's first microfinance organization. Both argued that harrassment and intimidation of women was on the rise in their countries, driven by a new, hardline, Islamist agenda. Debates about women wearing Muslim headscarves on television and protests at a Tunisian university over the full-face Muslim veil were warnings of a return to stricter Islamic values, Arfaoui said. "We want different things, that's ok, that's democracy," cried fiery Egyptian political activist and academic Rabab El Mahdi, saying at least people in a post-revolutionary world were free to debate and stand up for what they believed. Speaking against the motion, El Mahdi and Libyan academic Amal Jerary argued that women were the driving force of the Arab uprisings and that they would eventually have greater freedom through the democratic change they helped inspire. "Women made those revolutions which brought the so-called fundamentalists to power and they will be able to define and defend their rights and interests," El Mahdi said. Any improvement in women's rights would take time, Jerary conceded, saying that a year ago she would have been unable even to appear on television to debate the subject. "It's not going to be easy; I'm not saying it is going to happen overnight." [47 minutes]

  • This House believes marriage between close family members should be discouraged. (#806)

    The Doha Debates threw themselves into one of the Arab world's most sensitive social issues, arguing the rights and wrongs of inter-marriage between blood relatives and voting overwhelmingly to discourage the practice. In a lively session that featured geneticists and cultural commentators, speakers grappled repeatedly with the scientific and religious aspects of consanguineous marriage - the union of two biologically-related people, including, most controversially, first cousins. Such marriages are especially prevalent in the Middle East and woven deeply into the social fabric of Islam. In the end, though, the motion ?This House believes marriage between close family members should be discouraged' was overwhelmingly carried by 81 percent to 19. British commentator and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor and Israeli geneticist Ohad Birk said these types of marriage prevented integration in society and increased the risk of children being born with severe physical and mental disabilities. Birk, head of the Kahn Genetics Research Centre at Ben Gurion University, who has worked closely with Bedouin communities, made an emotional plea against marriage between first cousins. "Last week I visited the home of a high school teacher and three of his kids aged 23, 20 and 18 are in diapers, severely mentally-retarded," he said. "These families send a very clear message: marry within your community, marry within your remote family, but don't marry your first cousin." On the other side, an often combative Alan Bittles, a geneticist, and Saudi Arabian writer and columnist Samar Fatany disputed the level of risk to children of consanguineous marriages and argued the social benefits outweighed the health problems. Fatany pointed out that marrying a stranger outside of the family in parts of the Middle East was frowned upon and that marriage between blood relatives brought a family together and promoted social integration. Manzoor's claim that British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to produce children with genetic disorders than other groups in Britain, sparked a tense exchange with Bittles, a professor with over 30 years experience of same-blood marriages. Bittles dismissed Manzoor's data as "spurious". The award-winning Doha Debates are a leading platform for free speech in the Middle East, and are transmitted to more than 400 million homes globally through their broadcast partners, including BBC World News. [47 minutes]

  • Episode #807

    A former Archbishop of Canterbury has attacked religious laws in Saudi Arabia, saying they prevented non-Muslims from worshipping and were "profoundly unjust". Lord Carey of Clifton, speaking at the latest Doha Debate, said there were other governments whose attitudes ranged from "gloomy" to "downright awful". "The worst," he added, "is Saudi Arabia where non-Muslims cannot worship." Such criticism is normally unthinkable at a public forum in the Gulf, where the media remain under strict censorship and officials avoid any adverse remarks about neighbouring countries. Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, made his comments during a debate on the motion: "This House believes that Arab governments should take urgent measures to protect religious minorities." Seventy-eight percent of the mainly-Arab audience voted in favour of the motion. Among the other speakers was Roger Bismuth, a Tunisian senator and currently the only elected Jewish legislator in the Arab world. He said it was hard to protect minorities - often disparate groups, scattered across a country - and instead favoured better education in order to counter extremism. But his argument came under fire from Chairman Tim Sebastian who reminded Bismuth he had personally intervened with the Tunisian government after recent death threats to Jews on the streets of the capital. "I wanted to protect against verbal aggression," he countered when Sebastian said he had instructed an Arab government to protect his minority. Against the motion was Fadi Daou, a Lebanese Maronite priest, who argued that governments should fight extremism rather than stigmatise minorities. Many Christians in the Arab world, he said, don't consider themselves a minority. "The government should face the source of the threat and focus on fighting extremism," he added. The Doha Debates were launched in 2004 and are staged before a young audience in the Qatari capital Doha, and televised on BBC World News, available in 300 million homes in 200 countries. [47 minutes]

  • This House believes censorship makes a mockery of the arts. (#808)

    [47 minutes]

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