Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Democracy Day Post

Today we celebrate a new holiday in Iraq. It’s Democracy day. On this day last year we voted for the first time after the war.
Now give me a moment to do my Happy Dance to celebrate the fact that we have a couple of religious extremists sitting in parliament and deciding what my future will look like. I guess the only consolation is the fact that this is happening wherever the much-celebrated march towards democracy does a parade in the Middle East. The newest addition to the proud We-Choose-Islam club is Palestine.

I am still trying to figure out the answer to the riddle of a democratic process that brings in an undemocratic government. We’ve all put ourselves in a very uncomfortable corner, every single on of us who believed that the people will choose what’s ultimately best for their future and the western democratic governments are the first in line.
The right to choose your own destiny and all that. The problem is we seem to choose future car crashes for a destiny.

What’s even more exasperating is what he US administration is doing in Iraq because it just won’t admit how wrong it all went. It goes back to “Democracy day” - the first elections, a year ago.

When the US feared that the elections won’t happen they turned to Shia religious leaders to get them on board and guarantee the support of the majority Iraqis in the first post-Saddam elections. Ayatollah Sistani became a pivotal figure who would make or break the voting process. What they did not consider is that once you hang a picture of an Ayatollah on your wall it is much more difficult to bring him down again. And this where we are now. Religion rules.

The most recent disheartening development is nicely summed up in a CS Monitor headline
Ballot-box win boosts Iraqi radical

Moqtada al-Sadr whom I first took notice of because of his inability to speak intelligibly is going to have a say in my future? 32 years old and not really the sharpest tool in the shed, the only reason he has such a big following is because of a father and uncle who were very respected scholars. Does this make him one? Apparently yes.
"Sadr is a power now that is affecting everyone, and not just the Shiites," says Aref Taifour, the Kurdish deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament. "They're going to be a big opposition force, with a large following, and others are going to have to respond."

One of the things you used to hear a lot during the build-up to the war was that there is a strong secular, educated base of Iraqis which will be the foundation for the reconstruction effort and the political process. I believed that as well, more than believed, I thought I knew this to be a fact. This is the environment I grew up in, secular Shia and Sunni families whose fathers or mothers were educated abroad during the 40’s and 50’s and who sometimes talked to us about a life before the Baath Party was everything.

Thinking of this now it feels like I have been living in a make-believe world, I keep asking myself where are all the secular Iraqis? Where did all this religious extremism come from? And if we really are one of the best-educated societies in the Mid-East why do we keep making mistakes we made in the past?

There is only one answer, it was all a mistake. Those educated Iraqis were already out of the country long before the US invasion and they were smart enough not to play with the American and British government when they started their war games. The bits and pieces of the Iraqi educated middle class has been living in denial for the last three years believing that the reasonable Iraqi will rise again. The last blow to this was the crush of Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi List in the last elections and the total exclusion of his party from the negotiations that are going on now. Yes Allawi is a US stooge but he is a secular stooge, which I prefer to having someone like SCIRI who play the same game but with Iran.

Iraqis spoke and they chose extremes, religious and sectarian extremes. And to say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. BUT, you see, I don’t matter since I am in a tiny minority who will very soon lose all because if you are not doing the sectarian/religious double dutch rope jump you are not part of the game, so get the hell out of the playground and take your chums with you!

Iraq The Model, a blog I rarely agree with, is asking a very timely question today.
Is there a place for democracy in the Middle East?
Is it possible for democracy to succeed here? And is the struggle to change our backward present and catch up with the modern world a losing one?

Mohammed tries to put together a brief history of why-it-all-went-wrong and I basically agree with the outline but I don’t subscribe to the idea that the way people voted was in a way an expression of an Iraqi confrontational personality trait. I think it is a deep-rooted sectarian trait that goes way back. Something we have not dealt with and never really had to confront for a very long time, and now that the lid has been lifted it shows itself in all its ugliness.

He is also a bit disappointed by the non-presence of the secular voice in the outcome of the elections but he does not see this as a sign that the secular Iraqi is a rare breed instead he thinks they are just staying silent
“We are not the minority but we are the least organized when compared to the religious parties. When people voted for the religious choice that was because religion was in front of them all the time while parties like ours were more like a new face in the neighbourhood, interesting but not convincing.”
Sorry Mohammed but, to repeat a cliché, denial is not just a river in Africa. You are still expecting too much.

To come back to the question, is there a place for democracy? Well. I don’t think either of us has the heart to say no, deep down we know there should be a place. But it’s such an uphill struggle to keep believing that we be able to save ourselves from being hijacked by another form of totalitarian thought.