Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Failure of Democracy in Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Intellectuals wanted democracy through elections. They wanted a government determined by the ballot boxes. The result was not quite satisfying. It stripped the post-election regime of any aspects of democracy, except for Election Day every four years. Instead, it remained religious, tribal, and sectarian.

The Iraq experiment flies right in the face of those left among the theoreticians calling for the promotion of democracy in the Third World. This test could prove to be the most important experiment in the laboratories testing the science of government that has kept sociologists busy since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the ideological divide.

The previous experiments, such as the Iranian experiment, were insufficient. The presidential and parliamentary elections in Iran were ridiculed for permitting only a single selected group to run for elections and denying others the chance to do so. After that, whoever”s at the top decides who will represent people in parliament. The Iranian experiment was viewed as the closest model to a communist election.

Iraq, unlike the rest of the Third World, has been given a complete opportunity for a free and open test, including free campaigning, demonstrations, even the displaying of Saddam Hessian”s and Khomeini”s pictures. The result was a shameful Third World democracy, no matter how much we try to sing its praise. We wanted to be able to say that the Third World is not incapable of understanding its individual and collective rights than any advanced nation and that is what is said about the historical progress of the democratic peoples and the backwardness of the developing nations is nothing but intellectual heresy, if not pure racism.

Based on what has happened and is happening in Iraq, is proof that the intellectual growth of nation does not exceed individual growth and that it takes education, training, and patience. The same is true of democracy in the Third World. Why are we saying this about the modern Babylonian experiment? We say it because the Iraqis had their best opportunity to choose. Most of them did but a few failed, simply because of the ignorance of the leaders that could not understand the importance of voting and participation. They realized this importance only when they had found themselves facing the threat of political bankruptcy, regional marginalization, and a new disturbing history against them. The losers faced a harsh verdict while the winners turned their keys over once again to autocratic, divisive, and sectarian rule.


It is a hopeless experiment. Federalism in itself is not a bad project for a pluralistic nation, unless this country is clearly divided in its loyalties. The essence of collective democracy is ruling, not collecting votes for the hegemony of the majority.

What did Iraqi lack to become a democracy that respected the rules of the game? It needed a gradual experimental process or protection from big brother that could guarantee a safe experiment in the face of individual and collective ambitions, which are two difficult things to achieve.

Iraq has answered the question that sociologists disagreed about: Does the Third World deserve democracy? So far, the answer is unfortunately no.

Theoretically speaking, the people are the biggest winners in a democracy. The majority will feel comfortable knowing that the strategic decision is in its hand and the minorities will feel safe knowing that their basic rights are guaranteed. Democracy has indeed brought the people”s representatives, who returned the nation to individualism and sectarianism. The decisive verdict was given to a single clergyman, something that makes the eight million votes that selected their representatives so that they could collectively decide on their behalf, meaningless. In Iraq, a single vote decides in the name of most of the votes.