Post Liberation of Iraq
and Democracy in the Arab World
"Challenges and Opportunities"
Negad El Borai
This paper does not aim at the assessment of the American intervention in Iraq, nor does it aim at the questioning or testing of the truth of the declared
justifications for this intervention. It rather aims at revealing the chances and the potential of democratic development in the Arab World in addition to the obstacles challenging this potential. It also sheds some light on the role that should be
played by international democratic forces- in the light of the new realities caused by the war of liberation of Iraq- to support this development. It is needles to say here that some of the most important new realities is the downfall of President Saddam Hussein’s regime and its failure as one of the worst dictatorships not only in the region, but in the whole world.
Thus, this paper will be divided into three sections. The first section will present a general overview of the situation in the region at the beginnings of this century (the 21st century), the second section will explain some of the challenges (obstacles) facing democratic development in the region, while the final section will deal with the chances to achieve a democratic renaissance in the Arab World after the liberation of Iraq.
First, The Arab Region At the Beginnings of the 21st Century.
The Arab World is walking into the new century in a very miserable shape on a large number of levels. The UNPD report for Human Development for 2000 states that Arab countries are ranking at backward positions in the global human development index. While Israel stands 23rd among 174 countries, Kuwait stands 36th, Bahrain 41, Qatar 42 and United Arab Emirates 45. Except for Israel all those Arab countries enjoy Oil returns income as well as low population. But other countries do not have the same capacities as Egypt came 119, Syria 111, Morocco 124, Iraq 126, Sudan 143 and Yemen 148.
In addition to that, there is a serious lack of information and data on human development issues in Arab countries. However, and through using information given by the UNDP report, the Arab region is the least region among the world's seven regions that enjoys political and civic rights. Another survey carried out under the supervision of the UNDP offices in Arab countries members of the Arab League and which targeted young people aged 15-20 revealed that 51% of them decided that they want to immigrate form their countries to other European countries due to their dissatisfaction with the situation in their countries.
Out of 22 Arab countries, only 14 have a constitution while the other 8 do not. But those constitutions do not provide enough guarantees for civic rights and liberties or they might have such guarantees but they assign laws to regulate those rights, which effectively gives the authorities the ability to manipulate them at times they
need to. For instance, Egyptian constitution in article 44 states that "residences are protected and they may not be entered or inspected with no judge's warrant", while article 45 says "mail and postage correspondences as well phone calls and other means of communications privacy is protected and they may not be confiscated or tapped without a pre judge warrant" and article 55 that states "citizens have the right to establish societies according to the law" and article 62 "citizens have the right to vote and run for election as well as participating in referendums as the law stipulates". Other Arab countries’ constitutions have similar articles and content with some variances in the levels of liberty .
Moreover the majority of Arab countries' regimes do not respect basic principles of Good Governance as defined by the UNDP to be ; justice of the legal system; free flow of information; equality and that organizations serve their constituencies. However, the overall democratic scene in the Arab world seems much more complicated as political participation is at a the lowest level and may be restricted in some cases either by emergency laws -effective in Egypt since 22 years- or by other similar laws such as Martial law in Syria or even by temporary laws in Jordan's case; all in all means that -except of Morocco- the Arab world has not built any promising models in democracy development.
In the same context, official figures indicating the level of public participation do not indicate the actual political reality, to the contrary, as the regime in a certain country becomes more authoritarian , election participation figures increase. In Iraq official figures of public participation in the general elections in 2000 were 83,6% , while in Syria's 1998 elections it was 77,8% and in Tunisia's 1999 presidential elections it scored 89,7%. Nearly most Arab countries have serious problems within their electoral systems where authorities control the elections' set up and voting process.
It is hard to say that there is a true partisan life in Arab countries or that there is a reasonable rotation of power in those countries despite the large number of political parties in them. Except for Libya and Mauritania that do not have active political parties according to the UNDP report, things are not better in other countries that have them; in Egypt there are 16 parties, 15 in Sudan while in Syria and Iraq there is a one ruling party although in Syria’s case there is more 5 parties but effectively they are members of a “front” led by the ruling party. Providing those circumstances, political parties are either margined by parties’ laws that restrict their activities and put them under the government’s control or they are totally denied from actively participating through undemocratic elections.
There is one Arab model that has been widely appreciated; when Morocco established in 1996 a model of “Political Rotation” that is based on a large
political coalition comprising of 7 parties that used to be in the opposition. This experience led to a fair election process in 2002.
Political regimes of the Arab world are of stagnant style and they do not encounter changes at the top level of leadership. It is possible, therefore, to say that most Presidential Arab countries’ regimes “managed” to keep their leaders until their deaths. In Syria President Hafez Assad continued to be as such since the seventies leaving presidency to his son Bashar after his death. In Libya AlQadhafi remained in power since seventies while the same with Sadam Hussein. President Husni Mubarak of Egypt is still in power since the beginning of eighties like Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Tunisia’s president Zein Al Abdeen Ali.
In addition, there are no available systems according to which presidents are elected in the Arab world , but rather a model of a “referendum” process. However, and even in the case of the availability of a system that allows electing the president among a number of candidates, the lack of guarantees where the procedures are fair makes the elections more of a formal procedure –Tunisia for example. Other than Lebanon and Algeria, it is not possible to talk of a true renewal at the presidential post in other Arab countries’ regimes.
On another hand, despite that some Arab countries began embarking on economy reform programs, Transparency International report for 2001 said that since their beginning in eighties in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia have encountered a growing tendency for corruption and a lesser degree of transparency. According to the same report, a reasonable level of movement against corruption is rising throughout the Arab world referred to the growing role of civil society organizations. In Syria, for instance, and under President Bashar Assad, there have been some serious efforts to fight corruption but they have stopped with the death of late Prime Minister Mahmoud Zo’bi. In Morocco, the Parliament has formed a special parliamentarian committee to investigate into Arms deals commissions in the amount of a billion US dollars, while in Egypt a number of Parliament members, business men, Governors and a former Finance minister were brought before courts and convicted with misuse of their powers and collecting large amounts money from illegal business. Moreover, and in the Palestinian National Authority areas, a high ranking committee was formed to investigate into allegedly corrupted officials. Dubai has followed with the same while King Abdullah of Jordan has led a large campaign to eliminate corruption including prosecuting corrupt individuals one of them used to be a high official accused of receiving bribes and illegal commissions.
Those efforts have helped improving some Arab countries listing with Transparency International Index, but they are still far a way from being
reasonable. In TI list for 2001 Tunisia was 33, Jordan 37 and Egypt 59 among 91 listed countries while no other Arab countries were listed.
Women conditions are still at the lowest level despite continuos attempts to improve them. UNDP report for Gender empowerment for the year 2000 as well Human Development in the Arab World for 2002, reported that women occupies only 3,5% of all occupations, while 4,2% in East Asia (excluding China), 21,2% in East Asia (including China), 8,4% in Africa, 12,7% in South East Asia and the Pacific and 12,9% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Arab women are still denied from a large number of rights either in issues connected to marriage, citizenship of chills and accessing high office posts unless in an honorary way.
On the media front, 15 Arab countries are still conditioning publication of newspapers with a pre license while 4 Arab countries confine publisher to obtain a “waiver” for the publication of a newspaper. Moreover, 7 Arab countries strict publishers to deposit a specific amount in order to possess a newspaper license; those are Bahrain, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and Egypt.
In addition to that, many Arab countries make a condition that the newspaper capital must be high, effectively placing another restriction on freedom to publish compared with the difficult economy situation in those countries. In Oman, for instance, the law states that the minimum capital of a newspaper is 130,000 Omani Rial ($337,600) if it was to be a daily or a weekly newspaper and 100,000 Rial ($259,693) if it is a monthly. In Yemen, the law sets the minimum deposited capital at 2 million Yemeni Rial ($11,322) for the daily newspaper, 700,000 Rial ($ 3,962) for a weekly newspaper, 1 million for a weekly magazine ($5,661), 1 million for a monthly or periodical publication and 100,000 Rial for an Advertisement Bulletin. In Jordan licensing a daily newspaper requires a minimum capital of 500,000 JD ($703,136), 50000 JD ($70,313) for a weekly newspaper and 5000 JD for a specialized publication. The Palestinian Authority also makes a condition that minimum capital of a daily newspaper is 25000 JD and 10000 JD for non-daily newspapers.
On the other hand many Arab countries ban private broadcasting although some of them allows operating private Satellite channels while ground broadcasting continue to be monopolized by governments that use it to influence its domestic public opinion and form it in the direction they chose.
In another context, some Arab countries have a sound experience in civil work although this experience has been interrupted in sixties and afterwards where organizations working in that field came under large attacks and were seen
suspiciously by authorities which –according to UNDP report- refused their existence in some cases and restricted them in other experiences.
Governments probably are concerned that civil society organizations might form a large social movement that reveals the authorities’ incompetence as well as inciting the public towards change. There are indeed large debates in most Arab countries about new legislation that restricts activities of NGOs in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine replacing legislation that were not any better any way. In a country like Libya laws do not allow establishing organizations working for human rights, while the Tunisian Associations’ law and Egyptian Associations’ law are the best examples of restricting NGOs activities through law enforcement.
In such a political and legal framework, figures and numbers are not indicative; whether the number of NGOs was 15000 as in Egypt or more than 5000 in Tunisia or limited to 600 in Jordan; they all work under tremendous restrictions either in their administrative structure or in their ability to receive funds , in addition to living under the constant threat of dissolution. In addition, governments use their media to create an anti NGOs environment.
The absence of political and cultural diversity , pluralism and the growth of corruption in different levels throughout the Arab world on one hand, the role that religious states have played in the region promoting its ideological values on the other , and finally the existence of the state of Israel as a religious state with an occupation agenda caused the rise of religious fundamentalism movements in many Arab countries which has negatively affected stability. In Egypt, Libya and Yemen a number of fundamental militant groups declared wars on their countries. In Algeria the religious tide was raised to a level that placed the Islamic Front few steps away from taking over power. In other countries like Morocco, Sudan and Lebanon supporting base for regressive currents expanded substantially. Moreover, many Arab regimes attempted usage of religious vocabulary to remain in power while they presented democracy and human rights ideas as western product that the West promotes in order to dominate the Arab world.
Citizens of the Arab world are stuck between two hammers, corrupted governments and fundamental groups. While no matter what is the degree of public opinion acceptance of such an argument, they have known and have experienced corrupted regimes which made them what they are now, and because of that and because of the absence of a third choice, they now have no choice but giving their support to fundamental Islamic streams.
Arab states position’s in terms of ratification of international treaties and covenants vary according to each government’s political views and policies. All
Arab states –except for Djibouti- in motivation by the Arab Israeli Conflict ratified the International Covenant on Eliminating all Forms of Racial Discrimination . Also, all Arab states –except for Somali and Oman- ratified the Child’s Rights convention. However, only 13 countries out of 22 ratified on the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights as well as the Anti Torture convention while only 12 states have ratified the Convention on Eliminating all forms of Discrimination against women.
In the overview, it was not surprising that all of individual accused of carrying out the September 11 attacks -15 of them are citizens of Saudi Arabia- and that a very fundamental Arabic cause such as liberating territories occupied by Israel in 1967 becomes an Islamic cause rather than a patriotic one giving the lead to groups such as Hamas, Jihad and Hizboullah in resisting occupation. Moreover, Fateh movement which emerged as a political national organization named its militant arm “Al Aqsa Martyrs” which has a religious reference and significance.
Arab countries are the less countries enjoying political freedoms throughout the world. With some variations and differences they still all have not applied principles of Good Governance.
Although there have been some attempts to fight corruption and embark on economy reform policies, corruption is still widely spread in Arab countries disallowing its people to develop and prosper.
Women situation is still at the lowest level while Arab world intellectuals are not paying enough attention to Gender issues.
Civil Society in terms of concept, understanding and activities do not exist and is not yet clear to society leaders while NGOs are constantly under attacks by governments and its media in an effort to promote a negative image of those organizations.
Freedom of access to information and new technologies are very restricted in Arab countries while legal constraints continues on newspapers and operating private broadcasting.
As a result for the absence of political diversity and pluralism, Fundamentalism is quickly and in an unprecedented way spreading all over the Arab world building on the public frustration over their corrupted regimes as well as strangling civil society movement. The only choice that public has, as it seems, is Fundamentalism.
Authoritarian regimes present democracy and human rights values as being Western products aims at "westernizing" the society. They also use religious vocabulary in order to attach their policies to religious conventions eventually serving Fundamentalism streams rather than progressive streams.
Partisan life in Arab countries is fragile with strong governments pressure to monopolize it and use it to serve their own political ends.
Second: The Challenges Facing Democratic Development in the Arab World 1-The Rise of Extremist Religious Currents and Its Effect in Hampering Democracy
The fast ascendancy of Fundamentalist currents in the Arab World is regarded as one of the toughest obstacles to the comprehensive development of the Arab Political system. The large Arab defeat of 1967 led to an intellectual and cultural setback in the Arab World in general even to those countries that were not directly defeated . This setback also led to the dissemination of Fundamentalist ideas – even the most obsolete-in the sides of the Arab world; this was largely aided by the fact that the defeat has been brought to the Arabs by the hands of Israel, a religiously extreme country, that bases its political vision on religious statements. Everyone imagined that Israel has won because of its commitment to religion , and that on the other hand the Arabs have lost because they left it –religion- behind their backs; thus this huge defeat was minimized to a secondary issue which is undoubtedly neither the main reason for the victory of one party nor the defeat of the other. It is noteworthy , here that the Arab governments at that time have encouraged the prevalence of the religious reason for the defeat primarily to be pardoned and relieved from the responsibility of taking up hard steps like more democracy and political reform. These steps were necessary for recovering from the defeat and transcending its negative effects. The governments preferred to leave the whole responsibility at the hands of the people; if they want to gain victory against Israel they have to return to God’s way.
Then the 70’s arrived bringing a limited Arab victory on Israel which in turn and as an outcome of several factors led to a tremendous increase in the wealth of Arab regimes, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi, however did not find anything else to export to its Arab sisters except the most extreme Islamic ideas and interpretations. In that same period thousands of Arab workers and intellectual from both sexes immigrated to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf
states. In addition to financial wealth , those immigrants returned to their homelands impregnated with new ideas about politics and economics in Islam. Under this influence, phrases like “Islamic Sociology” and “Islamic Economics” became fashionable. In these trends an intentional mix between changing traditions and the fixed religion took place. Even more dangerously, many religious scholars , especially from AL-Azhar - the imam (leader) of which described as the imam of the people of the Sunnah (straight path)- have immigrated with the others to where wealth was in the 70’s of the last century. In Saudi for example, the Egyptian scholars mixed with the religious extremists of the Islamic University of the Imam Mohamed Ibn Sau’d who are Saudis or who came from Pakistan, Algeria, Emirates….etc. They returned to Egypt after their financial statuses changed upwards , while their intellectual-cultural statuses took a more extremists orientation.
The reality is that many authoritarian Arab governments have found a good chance to remain in power through encouraging these religious extremists currents largely for two reasons:-
1-The recognized and familiar idea of democracy which leads to the rotation of power through parliamentary elections is unknown in the old Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) . In Islam, the idea of rotation of power does not exist, rather
Bay’a or political allegiance is suggested instead. This idea implies that the supreme ruler of a state remains until his death.
2-Encouraging the surge in Fundamentalist currents even if it is indirect , is a protection fence shielding the government from external and internal pressures calling for essential changes that may lead to power rotation and the activation of political participation. The idea is that the Arab governments always present the extremist currents as an alternative to their own rule if there would be fair elections. This causes the external as well as sectors of the local public opinions overlook continuous pressure for democratization.
During the 80s and the 90s many Arab Governments even while persecuting Islamic activists , have attempted to adopt some of the statements of the Arab Fundamentalist movements. For example, in Egypt, former president Anwar Sadat has initiated a series of decrees and procedures to support Fundamentalist ideas. It started by taking the title of “the believer president” and ended by two constitutional amendments: “ Islamic Law is the main source of legislation” & “ religion is a fundamental subject in the educational curricula”. Between those two ends, Sadat had taken tens of steps towards Islamization of the state i.e. the increase in the number of Islamic programs in state owned media, supporting the veil-it reached the extent that state owned or affiliated newspapers and media used
to divide the women’s society to two categories :veiled and unveiled-and finally supporting Islamists against leftists and nationalists on university campuses. In Iraq , the Baa’thist regime waged the so called “faith campaign” since the mid 9o’s of the last century aiming at Islamization of the Iraqi society and spreading deterministic ideas, religious illusions and superstitions. The final aim is to make the masses give in to the dictatorship of the ruling elite as it is depicted as pre-ordained by God not to be opposed. The first target of this campaign were women. As in 1991, law no 111 for 1991 was issued and approved Revolution Command Council (highest executive power) according to which, any male citizen is legally entitled to kill any of his women relatives if he has suspicions about her personal behavior. The man could do that without subjection to any penal accountancy. Moreover, urging to wear the veil was carried out. The top officials and directors of the public sector circuits used to call the working wome to meetings where they demand them to be veiled otherwise kicked out of work. President Sadam was personally supporting this campaign in his televised speeches.
The campaign carried out by groups from “Fedayyeen Sadam”, (Sadam Suiciders) in coordination with the General Union of the Women of Iraq in Basra, Baghdad, and Mousel where 170 women were publicly beheaded without trial represented the tip of the iceberg of the attempts to repress Iraqi women. The women were labeled as “prostitutes “and the beheading took place in an atmosphere hysterical dancing , music and pro-Saddam cries. Parts of the Iraqi opposition tried to gain political points on the account of this tragic scene. The chairman of the Higher Council of Islamic Revolution, Mohamed Baqr Al Sadr said in a statement from Kuwait that what Saddam did by cutting the heads of these women is a religious heresy , (bida’ a) , since the proper punishment for them enacted by Islam was to stone them to death rather than behead them buy the sword. 1 The Iraqi opposition –the Higher Council of Islamic Revolution one of its main parties- had decided in a London conference in December of last year that Islam will be regarded as the official state religion in post-Saddam Iraq.
We can find tens of similar examples in Kuwait, Syria, Jordan. Libya, Algeria and perhaps Morocco where by varying degrees extreme religious currents that spread ideas that hamper democracy, are prevalent. The challenge remains posed in a form of two questions : could we reach to the goal of secularizing the sates of the Arab world? could we maintain what is for Caesar to Caesar and what is for Allah to Allah?.
1Al Harakah Al Nassawiyya Mina Al Difaa Ila Al Hujum (The Feminist Movement from Defense to
2-The Supremacy of the Despotic State
Since the 50’s of the last century we could observe throughout the Arab World , that the Arab ruling regimes range from authoritarian regimes establishing themselves on lineage to the Prophet Mohamed (Peace Be Upon Him) like (Morocco and Jordan), and others –equally authoritative- that are or were established on tribalism and espousing extreme religious doctrines like (Saudi Arabia) and ( Libya under the Sanussis before 1969). Yet there are other regimes of a popular nationalist nature that are or were founded on the ideas of the Socialist Arab Baa’th Party (Syria and Iraq) or the Arab Nationalists Movement ( former South Yemen) or the Nasserism as in (Egypt) ; to a lesser extent (Algeria) and post September 1969( Libya).
One way or another these regimes have headed the national independence process which represented its only political legitimacy. Late King Mohamed the sixth of Morocco, the Front of National Liberation in Algeria, the Constitutional Party of Tunisia, the Sanussi movement of Libya, the July Revolution of Egypt…..etc , are symbols of Arab political regimes that are still in control under various extensions. They have minimized their projects to the achievement of national independence considering that the “freedom of the homeland comes before the freedom of the citizen”. They have further attempted an economic development which is only dependent on self resources as much as possible. They had declared in different documents their vision, that there could not be a start for a transformation process towards democracy or acceptance of power rotation without total independence.
The continuous failure of these regimes to achieve independent development-as a result of what they claim to be a western conspiracy-and their consideration that their separate national independence is incomplete as long as Israel remains occupying part of the Arab land of Palestine , have assisted in establishing a more firm hold on to power. They try to project the conviction that any peaceful rotation of power would mean their exclusion before they realize their final goals.
Moreover, these regime have consistently created imagined enemies or blown up the strength of real enemies with the aim of frittering away local public opinion from demanding democracy. The logic used is that it is not permissible to talk about these things in the shadow of a military threat. From this we can understand why these regimes were involved in several battles; Libya Vs Chad, Iraq Vs Iran, Iraq Vs Kuwait, Algeria Vs Morocco, Egypt Vs Sudan, Egypt Vs Libya, Egypt Vs Yemen, Saudi Arabia Vs Yemen…..etc.
3- The Existence of Israel as an Obstacle to Democracy.
The existence of Israel with its political composition and unlimited craves represents a direct challenge for the development of democracy in the Arab World. From one side it is a source of strength for the religious currents as it is based on a strong religious-discriminative foundation. From another, the bias practiced by western Europe and the United States for Israel’s favor led to the increase in the intensity in hostility towards the west tin the Arab political streert. This hostility reached the level of rejection of any ideas imported from the west no matter how useful . The most serious result of the situation created by Israel, was that the battle with Israel “ the Zionist Enemy” as Arab regimes like to call it , has caused the receding of the concern with democracy between members of the Arab elite. In that respect a slogan that was once widely recognized was that “no voice should raise above the voice of battle”.
Third: The Available Chances for Democracy
The U.S interference in Iraq –no matter the nature of or the opinions about it -has borne an important impact that reflects positively on the question of democracy. The collapse of the statue of president Sadam Hussein and its hitting with footwear by Iraqi citizens has, in fact raised the emotions of many Arabs many of whom have imagined the same done to the statutes of their own leaders. Arabs, have also been drawn to the daily demonstrations that went out and still does in Baghdad blasting the American occupation without being interrupted or crushed. Also they had their attention drawn to the abundance of newspapers being circulated after there was a time when an unlicensed newspaper caught meant the imprisonment and perhaps the death penalty for its reader. However, it will not be that easy, for the chance of democratic prosperity created by the American interference in Iraq will not be fruitful unless it is accompanied by several procedures that may aid this chance and complete taking advantage of it.
1- Initiating a different model in Iraq.
Western Europe and the United Sates have to work for the support of the establishment of a democratic system in Iraq that will become a model for all the peoples of the region. Despite the difficulty of this , the Arab and international civil society organizations need to engage in coordinated endeavors hand in hand for the rehabilitation of Iraq. Sometimes democracy is not the fast magic answer for many problems. Yet, democracy is the successful long term answer , and as much success achieved in the process of building democracy there will be democratic progress on several fronts.
2-Ending the Historical Antagonism between the Arabs and the West/ and ending the Arab Israeli Conflict.
This historical antagonism could never be ended unless there is a real and sincere effort to end the Palestinian Israeli conflict . Many Arab Intellectuals and laymen alike realize that the west had implanted Israel in this region and that they bear, even if a moral responsibility to solve this conflict. Political will provided , this will not be difficult even if Sharon is the prime minister. The establishment of two neighboring states on the historical land of Palestine , will contribute in ending one of the bloodiest conflict on one hand and will open the way before democratic development in the region on the other.
3-Europe and the United Sates are called upon to define in a more precise manner their interest in the region . They have to speculate whether the despotic regimes will offer real protection to their interests or not?. They are further called upon to openly work with the democratic institutions and to send a clear message to the despotic regimes stating that they will not accept anything less than free choice for the people of the region even if it brings the religious current to the government . I think that the guarantee of a peaceful rotation of power protects the interests of all parties including Europe and the United States more than the despotic regimes, under which we could never predict the alternative in the case the ruler passes away or gets overthrown.