For decades, Western democracy promotion efforts have tended to focus on strengthening civil society and stimulating civic engagement as methods of encouraging the emergence of a democratic political culture. This is nowhere more true than in the Arab world. Between 1991 and 2001, some US$150 million dollars—more than half of all U.S. funding for democracy-promotion in the Middle East—went toward this goal. Yet new public opinion data from the first-ever Qatar World Values Survey (QWVS), administered in December 2010 by the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) of Qatar University, calls into question this presumed relationship between civic participation and democratic culture. This is because, in fact, civic participation in Qatar is actually associated not only with reduced support for democracy itself, but also with a disproportionate lack of those values and behaviors thought to be essential to it, including confidence in government institutions and social tolerance. In Qatar, the QWVS reveals, civic participation cannot lead individuals toward a greater appreciation for democracy, for it is precisely those who least value democracy that tend to be most actively engaged in civil society.

The QWVS asked respondents about various norms and behaviors said to be important in begetting or sustaining democratic political institutions, including about social tolerance, political interest, appreciation for democracy, confidence in government institutions, and participation in civil society organizations. Contrary to the assumptions of present Mideast democratization efforts, however, it found that civil society participation does not lead individuals toward a greater appreciation for democracy, nor toward a democratic political culture. Instead, male and female Qataris who channel their social, economic, and political ambitions through participation in civic associations are disproportionately likely to be less tolerant of others, less oriented toward democracy, and less confident in formal governmental institutions. These findings are the result of a careful multivariate statistical analysis, which offers a strong foundation for inferring, albeit not proving, causality. Thus, overall, it seems clear that associational life in Qatar does not seem to be an incubator of democracy.


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