When Nations Are Ready for Democracy?

Determining the readiness of nations for democracy is a complex and debated topic among scholars and experts. While there is no universally agreed-upon set of criteria, several factors are commonly considered when assessing a nation’s readiness for democracy. Here are some key factors supported by academic literature:

Economic Development: Several studies suggest a positive correlation between economic development and the likelihood of successful democratization. An argument suggests that as societies modernize economically, the growth of the middle class and education levels creates a conducive environment for democratic values and institutions to thrive. Another study finds a strong positive correlation between economic development and successful democratization, highlighting that higher income levels tend to support democratic stability.

Education and Literacy: Education is often seen as a significant factor in nurturing democratic values and active citizen participation. A well-educated population is more likely to understand democratic principles, engage in critical thinking, and actively participate in political processes.

Civil Society and Social Capital: The presence of a vibrant civil society, including non-governmental organizations, social movements, and strong social networks, can contribute to the readiness for democracy. Civil society organizations play a crucial role in advocating for democratic reforms, holding governments accountable, and promoting citizen participation.

Political Culture and Values: The existence of a democratic political culture characterized by a respect for human rights, pluralism, tolerance, and a commitment to democratic values is considered essential for the successful implementation of democracy.

Institutional Capacity: Strong and effective institutions, including an independent judiciary, impartial electoral commissions, free media, and checks and balances, are crucial for the functioning of a democratic system.

It is important to acknowledge that these factors are not steadfast and definitive rules. The progress towards democracy and the preparedness of countries can vary depending on the influence of various political, social, and economic factors. Nevertheless, examining these factors can aid in comprehending the variables that may contribute positively or negatively to the realisation of democracy, given the official institutional desire and societal motivation for such change.

The state of democracy in Oman: 

Despite the existence of the Omani Council, which consists of two chambers: the upper and lower chambers, with the upper chamber representing the State Council whose members are appointed by royal decree, and the lower chamber being the Consultative Council whose members are elected every 4 years by the people, it cannot be considered a parliament. This is because both chambers have very limited powers that do not extend beyond the consultative role, as per the Basic Statute of the State. Their role is primarily limited to discussing and approving legislative bills and development plans.

Furthermore, in Oman, the Sultan holds numerous positions, including the Head of State, Prime Minister, and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council. The political system in Oman is hereditary and monarchial, where the Sultan wields absolute power. Additionally, there is no freedom for civil society in Oman to establish political parties or human rights associations/organisations. Article 116 of Oman’s Penal Code criminalises any activities that could be interpreted in this manner.

Furthermore, Article 121 of the same law criminalises gatherings and peaceful demonstrations, considering any assembly of more than 10 individuals that threatens security or public order as unlawful. However, in previous periods, arrests have been made for gatherings of fewer individuals, as exemplified by the case of Hani Al-Sarhani and two others on August 27, 2022.

Furthermore, the Nationality Law in paragraph 1 of Article 20 grants the Ministry of Interior the right to revoke the citizenship of any Omani proven to belong to a party or group whose activities could be interpreted as principles and beliefs detrimental to Oman’s interests. This raises concerns about authorities using this provision or the law in general to restrict any independent human rights or political activity, or even individual or collective lawsuits, given the existence of independent human rights and political activities within civil society. It is noteworthy that Oman has not yet signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is considered one of the pillars of international human rights law.

In the context of continuous restrictions on activists in Oman, the Omani Ministry of Interior has the right to exclude any candidate applying for Shura Council elections. In June 2023, the Ministry of Interior excluded several names from the list of election candidates without providing any reasons. The excluded individuals included Majid Al-Rahili, Awadh Al-Sawafi, and former council member Ahmed Al-Hadabi.

Although, according to the Shura Council Membership Election Law, those who are excluded are those who have been finally convicted of a criminal offense, or in a crime against honour or trust, and if their consideration is returned, they are restricted in the electoral register. They should not be affiliated with a security or military entity, should not be under a judicial order, and should not suffer from a mental illness. The same article also allowed those whose membership has ended to run again for a second term.

In its 2022 Democracy Index, the Economist Intelligence classified Oman as an authoritarian country, ranking it 125th out of 167 countries worldwide, with a score of no more than 3.12 out of 10. The index table was divided into four categories of systems: full/complete democracy, flawed/defective democracy, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes. Despite the existence of the Council of Oman, which consists of the Council of State and the Shura Council, neither branch can be considered a parliament, as they have very limited powers that do not exceed the advisory role, according to the basic law of the state. The role of both branches of the council is limited to discussing and approving draft laws and development plans.

Moreover, according to the Freedom House, Oman is considered a “Not Free” country, having received a score of 24/100 in the assessment of political and civil freedoms enjoyed by its population. The organisation noted in its report that Oman received a very low score in civil liberties due to restrictions imposed on freedom of expression, association formation, and peaceful assembly.

Oman has not yet signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which emphasizes political participation and political freedoms in several of its provisions.

In your opinion, what would be the optimal means for Oman to become a truly democratic political system?

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