No Political Alternative Could Be Worse
Khaled Shawkat, Dar Al-Hayat, 2003/04/10
Contrary to popular belief, military triumphs do not necessarily produce civilized victories. In fact, the opposite can happen sometimes. Consequently, if official Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had achieved victory against the American-British campaign, this would have meant the defeat of democratic values, which the Iraqi people yearn for. It would have turned Saddam Hussein from "a god" into a "God of all gods."
It is regrettable that the Third Gulf war uncovered the frailness of the democratic basis of the Arab nationalist ideology. As it faced its first test since the Second Gulf war, this ideology embraced sensationalist slogans and proved that democracy was not one of its priorities, as it indicated that it was not prepared to give up on totalitarian regimes. Many "neo-nationalists" believed that the Arab nationalist ideology had learnt the lessons of other Arab countries, which were ruled by regimes that resorted to fiery slogans, and thus, concluded that Arab unity could only be achieved through a democratic process.
But Iraq's experience, from the beginning of the embargo until the American-British campaign, revealed that Arab nationalism is still prepared to embrace such slogans. The notion that the defeat of foreign aggression is more important than democratization is no longer convincing, especially after half a century of deception. Facts on the ground have shown that the postponement of political, administrative and social reforms is only a deception aimed at preserving totalitarian regimes and glorifying tyrants to sustain their grip on power.
Leaders of the Arab national movement, especially those who remained outside the circle of authorities, should have proven their commitment to democratic reforms, which they championed as the only means to reach Arab unity. But the Iraqi crisis demonstrated that the popular fiery slogans are too entrenched in their beliefs and state of mind. They no longer tolerate any opposing view, and inter-Arab debates resumed the habit of accusing dissenting voices of treachery and betrayal of the "higher cause."
After its failure to confront the American-British campaign, the regime of Saddam Hussein invoked all the popular slogans that could help it in its final battle. This regime was never nationalist in the rational sense, let alone the Islamic one. So the popular slogans it invoked were only aimed at preserving its one-man tyrannical rule. Arab nationalist leaders should have pointed out to their people that in order to preserve their interests, they had to carry out democratic reforms, and that these interests would not be threatened by a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Any regime resulting from this invasion cannot be worse than the current regime. The cases of Japan and Germany following World War II, and that of South Korea compared to North Korea are examples that could apply to Iraq.
Mr. Shawkat is a Tunisian writer, and director of the Center To Support Democracy in The Arab world, the Hague.