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Is Iraq's Democracy Contagious? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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No, never, in fact the opposite is true. Autocracy is far more infectious and capable of infiltrating minds and borders, and today dominates the entire region. Therefore there should be no fear for the Iraqi elections, especially as the voter turnout exceeded 60 percent of eligible voters, an extremely high voter turnout rate. People do not usually make long walks on foot to stand in long lines to elect figures if they don’t believe that this will have an effect on their lives.

This is why I call on everybody not to feel restless at the scenes of the legions of voters casting their votes, and the political adverts of electoral candidates, and the statements of these candidates promising electoral change and local power being put in the hands of the public. This is an exceptional celebration that will not be repeated in the region, because this [democracy] is difficult to bring about, and no power in the world is capable of caring for or protecting this. As for the Iraqi experience, this is the result of exceptional circumstances that necessitated the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime after civilian and armed opposition coup attempts all ended in failure. The new Iraqi system was born in a puddle of blood, and this is something that cannot be repeated in the short-term. Anybody looking at the situation in Iraqi over the past six years will have noticed that the majority of violence inflicted on Iraq was exported from abroad – from the neighboring countries – and this was due to this [democracy], rather than to fight against US military occupation or due to the hatred of the Iraqi political leadership. The idea of democracy being [forcibly] imposed is a feared and abhorred one, and the entire region reached a consensus to fight against it.

As for what will happen to the Iraqi electoral and parliamentary experience, this is now dependant on the Iraqis themselves, and the US will not be able to protect this for very long. I do not think that the regional countries are that concerned with destroying this experience, especially after they proved they are capable of sabotaging it and causing great losses to its sponsor [the US] in blood and dollars.

The fear is not from the democratic system infiltrating Iraq’s twenty neighboring countries, but rather from autocracy infecting the Iraqi leadership in the future. Democracy is indeed a cultural issue that is witnessing slow growth, and it is a difficult system to impose upon societies that remain tribal and suffer from high levels of illiteracy. It is not easy for an [autocratic] ruler to step down from power simply because his term in office has come to an end, nor is it easy for such a ruler to risk [his power] in elections. Even if this leader was democratic to the core, he would find it difficult to accept a system that prevents him from utilizing state funds to finance his party or election campaign, or to buy votes, or exploit state media for propaganda purposes or to criticize his rivals. It is human nature to love power, and this is something that cannot be curbed except with laws to limit this, a judiciary to control it, and power to protect it.

Algeria, Sudan, and Palestine were three attempts at democracy that were forcibly nipped in the bud, and this resulted in a situation worse than before. Following this, the events in Iraq [following collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime] took place, and all of this has caused the public to fear being asked to go out and vote.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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