Government shutdown could hurt democracy in the Middle East

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

A government shutdown in the United States could send a strong message to democracy activists throughout the world: “Essentially what we’d be saying is, yes, you, too can have a government that gets caught up in stalemates, that won’t actually get things done, that looks like a middle school,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told PRI’s The Takeaway. Allowing the government to shut down could hobble democracy activists everywhere, according to Kristof, “by tarnishing the name of democracy around the world.”

“There is huge interest in actually seeing what’s going on in Washington,” Mina al Oraibi Washington D.C. Bureau Chief for the Arab-language newspaper Asharq al Awsat, told The Takeaway. A government shutdown “gives this image of being messy, and muddling through and inefficiency.”

“The problem is that there are many autocrats who use the excuse of efficiency in trying to hold all the reigns of power,” al Oraibi explained. Another example is Iraq, where a government with the guise of democracy is actually dysfunctional. Autocrats can point to Iraq, and to a lesser extent the US, if it shuts down, as examples of the problems with democracy.

This could be especially damaging to the Obama administration, according to al Oraibi, at a time when people are questioning what Obama is capable of achieving in the Middle East. She says, “They see it as a weakness of the President.”

The adverse affects could extend well beyond the Middle East, too. “I wonder if it doesn’t have more of an impact in East Asia,” Kristof told The Takeaway, “where there really is a powerful argument that one does hear quite a bit that more autocratic governments just work better.” Governments like China and Singapore are more repressive, but also quite effective. Kristof says, “I think China’s going to be all over this story.”

There are many aspects of American democracy that people throughout the world will continue to admire, according to al Oraibi, including transparency, accountability and freedom of the press. But a government shutdown could hurt those aspects, too. al Oraibi says, “It does, I think, reinforce the idea that having multiple stakeholders making decisions just means that it’s less easy to make quick decisions.”


The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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