- Editor's Note
As the crisis over the disputed outcome of Iran's presidential election reminds us, despite the clear shortcomings of many Middle Eastern political systems, elections do occur, and the results can matter. At the grassroots level, competitive elections often have more meaning than at the presidential level, and while political life in the Arab world in particular is still limited, it is evolving, and studying the dynamics and implications of these systems can be illuminating. We need to remember that it took the Western democracies centuries to evolve their current political systems (women only got the right to vote in Switzerland in the 1970s), and that whatever inadequacies we may find in Middle Eastern systems, these elections are, for the most part, at least somewhat reflective of the opinions of the citizenry.
Two of our articles relate in one way or another to electoral issues; the other three examine aspects of Qatar's policies.
Although there are still Arab countries where women do not have the vote, in many countries women are an important voting bloc. In our first article, Lisa Blaydes of Stanford and Safinaz El Tarouty of the British University in Egypt examine the effect of gender on voter recruitment in Egypt, examining the importance of vote selling, the differing results for secular and Islamist women, and other issues, in a study that sheds light on the Egyptian political process.
James N. Sater of the American University of Sharjah examines the unusual case of Morocco's electoral system, where regular, contested elections have become a feature but where the role of the monarchy and other institutions have made party affiliations less important than other factors. Using public opinion research, he describes the implications of this system.
Qatar has been a pronounced maverick among the Gulf states, particularly since the current ruler came to power in 1995. It often has been a thorn in the side of its much larger neighbor, Saudi Arabia; its al-Jazeera television network has infuriated not only the Saudis but many other Arab leaders; it has pursued an activist and sometimes unpredictable foreign policy, involving itself in developments in Lebanon, the peace process, etc.; it has ties to Hamas but also hosts the largest US airbase in the Gulf outside Iraq. Its activist policies, despite its small size and population, make it worthy of study. We have three such studies on hand in this issue.
Examining the political sphere, including the internal politics of the ruling family and efforts at democratization and reform, is Mehran Kamrava, of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (one of many universities now operating a campus in the country).
Turning to the economy, Claude Berrebi, Francisco Martorell, and Jeffery C. Tanner, all of the RAND Corporation, provide a study of Qatar's labor market. With the discovery of major natural gas reserves, Qatar's rapid economic growth led, as it has in other Gulf states, to a dependence on foreign labor, both skilled and unskilled, reaching [End Page 361] a seven to one ratio of Qataris to foreigners. The virtually guaranteed access to public sector jobs for native Qataris also has distorted the market. The RAND analysts offer a detailed examination of Qatar's labor market —more quantitative than our usual fare, but extremely important to the country's future.
Finally, Qatar's maverick foreign policy is examined through one particular lens, its relations with Israel, by Uzi Rabi of Tel Aviv University. The first Gulf country to se up a trade office with Israel, Qatar-Israel relations have seen many ups and downs, through the al-Aqsa intifada, the war in Lebanon, and other challenges, but person-to-person contacts have continued.
Our book review article this time is by Mona Yacoubian of the US Institute for Peace, dealing with two books (by Juan Cole and Emile Nakhleh, authors with quite different backgrounds and current employment) on US efforts to engage the Muslim world.
One further note: The Middle East Institute's revamped website is online at http://www.mei.edu, and from there you can link to my blog, the MEI Editor's Blog, or reach it directly...