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Optimists in the East, Pessimists in the West - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Should the world’s business and political elite gathering in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week rethink the gloomy assessment of the situation in Iraq that dominated their last two annual sessions?

The latest argument for a reassessment of the situation in post-liberation Iraq comes from the WEF’s latest “Voice of the People” poll, conducted by Gallup last November and December in 60 countries across the globe. Based on more than 50,000 interviews the poll represents the views of a third of mankind.

The key question the poll wanted answered was whether or not the world today was more or less optimistic about future security and prosperity.

The poll, details of which are available on the WEF Website, shows that the most pessimistic portions of humanity live in Western Europe and North America.

In Western Europe more than 67 per cent believed that things will get worse for the next generation while only 11 per cent were optimistic. In the United States the pessimists and the optimists were divided 54 to 19 per cent.

The WEF report says: “However, in the Middle East, an area of the world that has experienced many conflicts in recent times, the region is more upbeat about prospects for safety in the future. A quarter of those interviewed (24%), feel it will be safer, compared with one in three (30%) who feel the opposite.”

Those figures, however, show only the big regional picture.

The real reason for the good figures from the Middle East is the optimism that the pollsters found in two countries: Afghanistan and Iraq.

The WEF report asserts, “In both these countries, respondents were even more optimistic about future prospects. In Afghanistan, three-quarters (77%) think the next generation will live in a safer world, while in Iraq this view is held by six in every ten (61%) interviewed.”

This shows that the doomsters who, since 2002, had told Davos that the toppling of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein would “open the gates of Hell” may have been wide off the mark. Clearly, the end of the Taliban and the Saddamites has given the Afghans and the Iraqis a degree of optimism that they did not have before liberation.

The liberation of Afghanistan has been less controversial than that of Iraq, partly because even the most brazen apologists of fascism could not endorse the Taliban and justify Al Qaeda’s terror campaign across the globe.

The liberation of Iraq, however, was challenged for several reasons.

The anti-American crowd hated it because the US led the anti-Saddam campaign.

The so-called leftists hated it because they saw Saddam as “an Arab Socialist” barring the route to Islamists.

The pan-Arabists hated it because, to them, Saddam was the last of the “Arab nationalists”. The tyrants hated it because they feared that toppling one despotic regime might set a bad precedent. All those who had ridden on the gravy train operated by Saddam and the United Nations also hated it because, with liberation, they had to get off and, possibly, even face corruption charges.

But why did the Davosians dislike the liberation of Iraq?

The main reason was that the crowd that gathers in the Swiss ski resort has always suffered from a degree of political correctness which, applied to international politics, contains a strong dose of anti-Americanism. You cannot be chic unless you are anti-American even if you are an American business or media tycoon or Hollywood star. Had Iraq been liberated by Switzerland, the politically correct crowd would have borrowed an extra pair of hands with which to applaud.

To prove that the toppling of Saddam was wrong the politically correct crowd has prayed hard for Iraq to become “another Vietnam” or, falling that, at least “ a quagmire”, or failing even that, a stage for Yankee Go Home” demonstrations.

None of that has happened. Instead, the Iraqis have been forming political parties, writing a constitution, setting up an independent judiciary, learning about pluralist politics, creating privately owned newspapers and TV and radio stations, and holding elections- all that while the most vicious terrorists in recent history have been throwing at them whatever they could.

The paradox of Iraq is that while daily news is often bad- especially when terrorists kill schoolchildren or pilgrims- the broader undercurrent of history is good. This is why Iraqis, though not as optimistic as non-Arab Afghans, emerge as the most optimistic nation in the region.

The reason is not hard to fathom.

In some Arab countries the average citizen may be safe on a day-to-day basis, especially if he steers clear of politics. But he knows that his future is unsafe because he has no say in shaping it.

The experience of life in Baghdad under Saddam was an illustration of that paradox. Before liberation the Baghdadis had no reason to be concerned about daily security; there were no car bombs and suicide attacks. But they felt unsafe because they knew that the despot could at any time lead them into another tragedy. Today, the Baghdadis, a in some districts of the city, know that they may be risking their lives by leaving their homes. And, yet, today Baghdad is the most optimistic regional capital because of its citizens are beginning to feel that they are in charge of their own destiny.

The WEF poll is not alone in portraying liberated Iraq as a land of current violence but future optimism. At least six other polls conducted in Iraq during 2005 produced similar results, which the massive turnout of voters in the December referendum and the January general election confirmed.

Hope for the future of Iraq is also reflected in the rise in real estate prices in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra, not to mention the Kurdish provinces that had already moved into the high-price bracket earlier. Iraq’s new currency, the dinar, is also doing well enough for Michael Stathis, a Wall Street portfolio adviser, to devote a whole book to it as “a possibly lucrative investment.” The two annual reports produced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Iraq, also offer un upbeat assessment, including the prediction that liberated Iraq could emerge as“ the engine of growth” for the whole region” in the coming decade.

The 2000 or so business leaders gathering in Davos would do well to cast a fresh look at Iraq as a place in which to do business. Iraq is a high-risk proposition. But, besides the fact that it has the world’s second largest oil reserves, it also has the region’s biggest capital of hope.

The Iraqis have not yet convened their new parliament and have not formed their new government. They do not have as much electricity as they need. Nor do they enjoy the degree of security they desire. Many do not have jobs. And there is no guarantee that, with so many forces determined to make Iraq fail, that things will not go pear-shaped. Nevertheless, Iraqis are optimistic because they know that the nightmare of life under fascism is behind them.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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