Iraq stumbles toward democracy
by Salim Mansur
Iraqis again showed how keenly they have taken possession of democracy when they voted on March 7 for their 325-member parliament.
In January 2005, Iraqis had voted with an insurgency raging and with Sunni Arabs, constituting nearly 20% of the population — Iraqi Kurds are Sunni and amount to another 20%, the rest make up the Shiite majority — staging a boycott of the election.
It was nevertheless a remarkable feat of defiance and courage by a people groping forward to take hold of freedom with dignity.
Five years later, for the second time more than 60% of the electorate, defying bombs and missiles, turned out to elect a government of their own.
Only hard-hearted cynics, and those lacking any historical perspective of Iraq and the region, will deride the significance of Iraqis voting together despite sectarian and ethnic differences.
This time around, the Sunni Arabs voted in large number as if to compensate for their folly in staging the 2005 boycott. They watched democracy slowly and painfully take root in the soil of their blood-soaked country for real, and learned they needed to be engaged in the process if they were to demand their share in government.
There will be all sorts of horse-trading in the newly elected parliament to form a government since no one party will likely hold a majority of seats. This means politicians and people will have to learn together the art of compromise to ensure a functioning democracy.
Iraq's democracy may appear messy to others in the Middle East, and the rulers of the Arab world with their sycophants may ridicule Iraqis as they stumble in making progress.
It is, however, this labour of Iraqis as a free people building a democratic society of their own that starkly exposes the rottenness of politics in the region.
Freedom and democracy tend to be contagious and therefore monarchs, theocrats and dictators in the Middle East are fearful of the Iraqi people setting an example that might not be contained.
They tried to extinguish this example overtly by questioning the legitimacy of Iraqi freedom and covertly by funding the insurgents.
Freedom has opened for Iraqis a new history without any connection to their past. This is the cause for envy and unrest in Iran and across the Arab world.
The theocrats in Iran robbed the people of their choice in the June 2009 election and, fearing their earnest wish for freedom, rule over them repressively. In most Arab countries, elections are made to order by dictators as it was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
In politics as in life, it is rare seeing gratitude offered by those who have received favour or gift, especially a gift such as freedom paid with blood and treasure by another people.
Yet if Iraqis continue advancing democracy without demeaning their freedom, they will then show in the most practical sense gratitude to George W. Bush, Tony Blair and American and British soldiers who won for them their freedom and stood beside them until democracy took hold in their land.
And supporters of regime change might rightly feel vindicated seeing the making of a democratic Iraq.