The Next Founders
by Joshua Muravchik
Muravchik, a fellow at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, offers a panorama of Middle Eastern democracy advocates through profiles of seven prominent campaigners for popular sovereignty. Each of these portraits supports the case for Western encouragement of rapid and positive political change in the Middle East.
Of the seven, Mithal al-Alusi and Mohsen Sazegara are the two most interesting. Alusi, an Arab Sunni living in the predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad's Sadr City, came to international attention in 2005 after he had attended an international conference on terrorism affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. He made no attempt to conceal his presence there, and as a result, was expelled from Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC). Upon his return to Baghdad, there were accusations of spying for Israel and attempts to kill him, along with a refusal by the U.S. authorities for protection. The result? The murder of his two sons, Ayman and Jamal, along with a devoted supporter considered his "third son."
Despite this, Alusi was elected to Iraq's national assembly at the end of 2005 as the sole successful candidate of the secularist Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, which he created. Although unseated in the 2010 Iraqi election, Alusi's saga of dedication to the democratization of his country, as well as his personal sacrifice, justifies Muravchik's enthusiasm about the yearning for liberation current in the Middle East.
The other stand-out figure is the Iranian "revolutionist," Mohsen Sazegara, who accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in France to triumphal reentry into Tehran in 1979. After the victory of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Sazegara occupied high positions in the clerical regime, playing a major role in the creation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. But internal conflicts within the dictatorship, as well as its brutal repression of opponents, drove Sazegara to launch a series of newspapers critical of the regime. He struggled to stay out of jail and, in 2004, left Iran for Scotland, eventually settling in Washington, D.C.
Muravchik's book meets the author's goal of showing that Iraqis, Iranians, and other citizens of Middle East Muslim societies seek political freedom in ways not so different from the founders of the American republic. But whether democratization in the region will receive any substantial help from the Obama administration seems, to this reviewer, extremely doubtful. One must conclude, sadly, that the remarkable personalities detailed by Muravchik may never become "the next founders," and like moderate Muslim believers as well as secularists, may be abandoned with their hope left to be redeemed by yet another such generation.