By Glenn M. Stewart

This is the first in an occasional series of observations on the political, social or cultural differences between the West, particularly the United States and the Arab world as seen through the unusual prism of my experience there.

Today let us consider the question of whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a more democratic society than the United States. In order to answer this question we need to focus on the way in which each society chooses the man who will hold the highest office. In both countries that choice is made through votes cast in an electoral college. In other words the key issue in both countries is who is enfranchised?

In Saudi Arabia there is an electoral college, as it were, consisting of 35 princes. In the United States we have an electoral college of 538 persons. Most Americans do not understand how the electoral college works.  It is simple. You, as a citizen of this country have no legal right to elect the President of the United States. When you enter the polling booth to vote you do not vote for the candidate you support. In fact you vote for an elector who has pledged to vote for that candidate in the electoral college.

The electors have only pledged to vote for the candidate but they are not legally bound to do so. The electors are free to vote for anyone they choose. It doesn’t happen very often that an elector does not vote according to his pledge but it does from time to time. Nonetheless, the point of the electoral college is that it was created by the founding fathers as a fail safe to protect the Republic in case the people fell under the sway of a demagogue who seduced them with hollow slogans: “Yes we can!” Or who fuddled their brains with self serving or meaningless political promises such as “Change we can believe in.”

Then the electors could overturn the expressed popular will and elect a sensible, responsible person to hold the presidency. Oh well, I guess it doesn’t always work.

So to get down to brass tacks: your vote doesn’t actually count.

So let’s do the math. The United States has 307 million people out of whom 538 are legally enfranchised to choose the President.  That’s .0001752% of the population of the country.

Saudi Arabia has a native population of 18.7 million people out of whom 35 are legally enfranchised to choose the next King. That’s .000187% of the population of the country. So Saudi  Arabia has a larger legally enfranchised electoral base than we do!

What’s that you say? Anybody in America can grow up to be President but you already have to be a member of the Al Sa’ud family to have any shot at being King. Well, as one of the Princes is reputed to have said to a non royal Sa’udi one day:  “if your grandfather had had enough drive to get up off his ass and conquer a Kingdom you’d be sitting here today and not me.”

More humor to come in due course!
Glenn StewartGlenn M. Stewart is a renowned expert on Middle Eastern affairs and business. a graduate of Oxford University, Glenn M.Stewart holds an advanced degree in Islamic History and Arabic and lived in the Middle East for 27 years. A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Stewart has a unique insight into this critical and important area of the world.

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