Politics & Policy

Arab Ironies

Iraq's neighboring detractors.

“They are not elected,” said Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. “They are not representative,” noted Syria’s Foreign Minister Farouq Shiraa.

“They lack democratic legitimacy,” snapped the Libyan “Supreme Guide” Muammar Kaddafi. Finally, the Sudanese military junta offered its own verdict: “We shall have to wait and see if they are accepted by the people.”

All these are some of the comments made about the newly constituted Governing Assembly (Majlis al-Hukm), which now embodies Iraq’s existence as a sovereign nation-state.

They are interesting because all those who made the comments implicitly accept that for any regime to have legitimacy it must reflect the will of its people. It is even more interesting that they all fail the test that they try to apply to the new Iraqi Governing Assembly. Their championing of democracy in the case of Iraq is a compliment that vice pays to virtue.

Amr Moussa, a veteran apparatchik, was a government civil servant for 40 years under successive authoritarian governments in Egypt with no electoral mandate. Since 1952 all Egyptian presidents have been elected, and reelected, in one-candidate contests, always winning 99.99 percent of the votes. The Arab League, the morally and politically bankrupt organization he heads today, includes all but two of the last military dictatorships in the world.

Before the war, Moussa campaigned against the liberation of Iraq and supported Saddam Hussein, who had been “elected” president with 100 percent of the votes, as the legitimate leader of the Iraqi people.

Farouq Shiraa, another apparatchik, has served the Syrian regime for more than 30 years. This is a regime that held a one-candidate presidential election two years ago with the predicable 99.99 percent majority for the incumbent Bashar al-Assad.

As for Colonel Kaddafi, now shedding crocodile tears for democracy in Iraq suffice it to note that he does not even bother with fake elections of the type held in Egypt and Syria. He is just there, presumably by the grace of God, doing the Libyans a favor by ruining their lives.

Finally, it is rich that the Sudanese jackboots, who have violated even the constitution they themselves wrote, should pull a face at the new Iraqi Governing Assembly for its lack of “democratic legitimacy.”

The Iraqi Governing Assembly is coming under attack from other Arab quarters, too.

The Qatar-based satellite television channel Al-Jazeera, a haven for the Muslim Brotherhood and nostalgics of pan-Arabism, presents the Iraqi assembly members as “quislings,” and nursing the illusion that Saddam Hussein embodies “Arab honor.” Its rival satellite channel, Al-Arabiyah, based in Dubai, tries to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the new Iraqi authority.

Without wanting it, the Iraqi Governing Assembly has provided a new demarcation line between those who still dream of Islamist and/or pan-Arabist tyranny, and those who urge progress towards pluralism and democracy.

The regimes that reject pan-Arabism and Islamism, and have held more or less clean elections, lost no time to recognize the new Iraqi Governing Assembly. The regimes that believe Arabs deserve nothing but dictatorship, have either hesitated or publicly attacked the new Iraqi authority.

The Iraqi Governing Assembly makes all partisans of one-party rule and other forms of tyranny in the Muslim world uncomfortable. The reason is that it is the only organ of government, albeit limited, anywhere in the Muslim world that reflects the entire political spectrum. It symbolizes a power-sharing exercise that is incomprehensible for people like Moussa, Shiraa, Kaddafi and the Sudanese military ruler General Omar al-Bashir, who regard any difference of opinion as an act of treason.

But are the members of the Iraqi Governing Assembly the “quislings” that Al-Jazeera, and some anti-Bush and anti-Blair elements in the U.S. and the U.K., claim?

Anyone familiar with Iraq today would know that the answer is: no.

All the members of the new assembly have a long history of struggle against Saddam Hussein. They began fighting the Baathist tyrant long before he caught the eyes of the Americans.

Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani raised the flag of revolt against Saddam in 1968, just months after the Baathist regime was installed. Adnan Pachachi castigated the tyrant as early as 1969. Muhammad Bahr al-Olum declared war against Saddam almost a quarter of a century ago. Abdel-Aziz Hakim, who lost 40 members of his family to Baathist murder squads, fought the tyrant from 1980, at a time the West was backing Saddam. Iyad Allawi, whose wife was killed in London by a hit squad sent by Saddam, became an opponent of the regime when the latter was at the peak of power. Ahmad Chalabi devoted nearly half of his life to fighting Saddam. Many members of the assembly spent years in Saddam’s jails.

The liberation of Iraq was a joint enterprise between the U.S.-U.K. Coalition on the one hand and the Iraqi people on the other. The Iraqi people contributed to liberation by not fighting the liberators and by making sure that the tyrant was left with no choice but to run for a hole in which to hide.

It is a tribute to the Iraqi Governing Assembly that it has scared all the reactionary and despotic forces in the Arab world. Their fear is that Iraq, as President George W. Bush has promised, will become a model of pluralist democracy for the region as a whole. The stakes are high: The U.S. and its allies should give the assembly the authority, the time, and the means it needs to show that pluralism can work, even for the Arabs.

— Amir Taheri, an NRO contributor, is an Iranian journalist and author of ten books on the Middle East and Islam. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com. A modified version of this piece appeared in the New York Post.

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