Thrawn Rickle 65
The Politics of Democracy in the Arab World
© 2003 Williscroft
We are about to establish a
government for a liberated Iraq. What type of government will this be?
To answer that it is
necessary first to ask a question about our own political system. How does the
United States government structure differ from nearly all other democracies on
The answer may come as a
surprise: To call America a democracy is a misuse of that term. America
actually is a representative Republic. Most other self-governing nations are
Interestingly, of those few
nations that have adopted the American model, most have evolved into a
dictatorship of one kind or another. Why is this, and why have we evolved into
the longest-lived (excepting the Isle of Man and possibly Switzerland), most
powerful self-governed nation in history?
The simple answer to why
seems to be that from the beginning, we agreed to observe the rule of law as
it has evolved in the West. We set up checks and balances across our
government structure that, along with our accepting the supremacy of our laws,
kept any one person or group from exercising excessive control over
government. We also made a strong point of pushing government to the lowest
possible level, and always presuming that any power the people granted to
government really did emanate from the people, and that powers not
specifically granted to government automatically resided directly with the
These concepts appear
simple to state, but have had profound influence in shaping our nation over
the past two centuries.
The parliamentary system
practiced by most other democracies is dramatically different from how we
govern ourselves. Our system devolves down to the votes of individual
citizens. Sure we have political parties, and ultimate control of our upper
and lower chambers at any given time rests with the party in power in that
chamber. But the Executive Branch is entirely separate, and thus relatively
In the parliamentary
system, citizens vote for party members who, in turn, vote for the head of
government. While it is much less likely that this form of government can
evolve into a dictatorship, governance is controlled by a constantly shifting
set of political alliances between competing political parties. The individual
frequently gets lost in the shuffle. Party affiliation, belonging to a
specific group, becomes much more important than it is within our
Arab countries have been
used to an autocratic governance for at least the last century. Unlike our
constitutional separation of church and state, and the unequivocal acceptance
of this principle by nearly all our citizens and their various religious
institutions, in the Islamic world, there usually is a total integration of
church and state.
An Islamic state is a
theocracy governed by the Shari’ah,
which is analogous to codified law in Western society. It consists of the
Qur’an (which Muslims believe was revealed by Allah to Mohammad during the
7th century), and the Sunnah (which records the Prophet's life), and a
constantly evolving collection of Fatwas or rulings that deal with every
aspect of Islamic life from ideology to practical daily matters. Throughout
Islamic history, Imams and Mullahs have issued Fatwas, which have the force of
law among Muslims, similar to a ruling by a Western court. As in the West,
these rulings can be confirmed or overturned by a higher authority, by issuing
an order known as a Fiqh.
Muslim ayatollahs govern Iran as
an Islamic state, like the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden set as
his goal unification of all Muslim countries under one Islamist governing
body, sort of a pan-Arabic Taliban.
The Ba’athist governments of
Iraq and Syria constitute attempts to wrest government from Islam and place it
firmly under civil control. Unfortunately, both governments chose a Fascist
model, and quickly evolved into absolute dictatorships.
Turkey has the longest successful
history among predominantly Muslim countries as a parliamentary democracy.
Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan have demonstrated some success, but appear to be
held together by strong-man leaders. Monarchies (another name for
dictatorship) govern most of the remainder.
Thus, it is critical as the
U.S.-led coalition prepares to shift from combat to stabilization and
nation-building in Iraq, to identify and shape the most effective form of
government for its liberated population.
Most indications are that
U.S. officials favor a
parliamentary form of government. In my opinion, this would be a mistake. As
pointed out earlier, this kind of government ultimately is controlled by
political parties, and in the Arab world, this means eventual control by the
Mullahs and the forced implementation of governance by the Shari’ah,
overriding any constitutional government we may emplace.
On the other hand, if we
establish a constitution similar to our own, with total separation of church
and state, and a prohibition of any action that smears the boundary between
church and state, the Iraqis might have a chance at continuing self-governance
without imposition of theocratic rules mandated by one or another of the
brands of Islam prevalent there today.
If we give them a
parliamentary style of government, I fear the Iraqi masses controlled by the
Mullahs will eliminate any chance they have for self-governance before it even
gets off the ground.
We have a unique opportunity right now to make a real difference, not only for the Iraqis we have liberated by our war against the Ba’athists, but also for their children and eventually for the entire region, as the rest of the Arab world sees what a free, genuinely self-governing Iraqi people can accomplish.