Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Bringing democracy to Iraq

I was planning to do an entry on the Iraqi handover, but since fodder has already done such a sterling job, I will just add a few thoughts. Now that the US has symbolically handed over power to the Iraqi interim government, the real challenges to building democracy will begin, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the easy part. Very few of the requirements for the fruition of democracy exist in Iraq. History has shown that there is more chance of democracy taking root if a country has functioning civil institutions, a stable and educated middle class, free press and media, a generally open economy, pluralism, rule of law and respect for law and order.

Iraq does not possess many of these institutions. The security challenge aside, there's not much of an entrepreneurial middle class, hardly any experience with free elections, and no robust and free media sector (although this is so far beginning to change rapidly.) Under Saddam Hussein's regime the economy was all but closed to foreign trade, and it is completely dependent on oil income. Civil society is weak and barely exists and there is strong division among Iraqi religious and ethnic groups,it's still very much a tribal and clan oriented society. Very little of the social infrastructure needed for a democratic society is there. Japan has been cited as an example of how American imposed democracy can work, it's a good example, but many of the conditions that predispose a country to democracy that I have mentioned above were in existance in Japan, unlike in Iraq. So I think it will be harder to bring about democratic change in Iraq than it was in Japan.

The powers that be have a difficult road ahead, while I did not buy America's reasons for going to war, I hope they succeed in what they have started. It would be a pity, and most ironic, if under free and fair elections the Iraqi shia majority vote their leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani into power, bringing about fundamental Islamic rule, a similar scenario to what we've seen taking place in Algeria. He is said to believe in the separation of religion and state, but he is after all the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, so how secular can he be? If this were to happen would America re-invade, or re-occupy or would thay be happy if Sistani was friendly towards their economic interests? It seems difficult to tell how sympathetic Sistani would be - on the one hand he has urged his followers not to take up arms against the occupation forces, on the other he has been highly critical of the occupation. I don't think George W really thought this whole thing through thoroughly enough.

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