The Downside of Democracy
By Juan Cole
The Los Angeles Times
Thursday 24 February 2005
What if the U.S. doesn't like what the voters like in the Mideast and beyond?
With the emergence of Shiite physician Ibrahim Jafari as the leading candidate for Iraqi prime minister earlier this week, the contradictions of Bush administration policy in the Middle East have become even clearer than they were before.
President Bush says he is committed to democratizing the region, yet he also wants governments to emerge that are friendly to the U.S., benevolent to their own people, secular, capitalist and willing to stand up and fight against anti-American radicals.
But what if democratic elections do not produce such governments? What if the newly elected regimes are friendly to states and groups that Washington considers enemies? What if the spread of democracy through the region empowers elements that don't share American values and goals?
The recent election in Iraq is a case in point. The two major parties in the victorious Shiite alliance are Jafari's party, the Dawa, founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the goal of which can be guessed from its name. To be fair, both have backed away from their more radical stances of earlier decades. But both parties - and Jafari himself - were sheltered in Tehran in the 1980s by Washington's archenemy, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and both acknowledge that they want to move Iraq toward Islamic law and values.
The victorious Shiite fundamentalists have already taken steps that may be making the Bush administration nervous. They made it clear that they would attempt to incorporate their paramilitaries into the new Iraqi army. SCIRI has the Badr Corps, made up of about 15,000 men under arms trained originally by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Dawa has its own paramilitary.
The two parties also announced that they would try to bring into the government's armed forces members of the Al Mahdi militia of Shiite nationalist Muqtada Sadr, which have fought hard battles against the U.S. military in Najaf and elsewhere. Jafari has previously said that he hoped to bring Sadr into the Iraqi government. Jafari likewise has protested U.S. military action in Fallouja.
In interviews, Jafari has warned against deliberate attempts to undermine Iraq's relations with neighboring Iran, which he has visited on several occasions for consultations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
To be fair, Jafari has emerged as a moderate and skillful politician, and his devotion to his faith should in principle be no more objectionable than Bush's own devotion to Christianity. Yet it certainly seems that his new government will adopt policies far less welcome in Washington than those of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
In the current struggle over whether the fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite party, Hezbollah, should be designated a terrorist organization, it seems clear that both the Dawa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq will side with Hezbollah.
The fact is, democracy is an unruly process; it doesn't always yield the results we want or expect. Bush likes to talk in terms of good versus evil, to suggest that the forces of freedom and democracy are doing battle with the defenders of tyranny - but he should be aware that the world isn't always that simple.
He should remember, for instance, the 2002 elections in Pakistan, pushed for by Washington, which produced an unexpectedly good showing for the United Action Council, a coalition of hard-line fundamentalist parties. Some of them had helped train the Taliban. They won 17% of the federal parliament seats, won outright in the Northwest Frontier Province and now govern Baluchistan in coalition. Their leaders argued that Al Qaeda was merely a figment of the U.S. imagination.
A full disaster was averted in Pakistan only because the federal government was still dominated by military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Nevertheless, the United Action Council has attempted to impose a draconian version of Islamic law in the provinces it controls and has not been helpful to the U.S. in tracking down Al Qaeda operatives.
Pakistan and Iraq are not the only countries where elections have had mixed results. Although the Palestinian elections in January were widely viewed as a success - producing a pragmatic prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas - remember that the radical fundamentalist party, Hamas, boycotted those elections. Then, less than three weeks later, local elections were held - and Hamas won decisively in the Gaza Strip, leaving it more influential than before and poised for even bigger wins in next July's legislative elections.
And in recent years, democratization has also put Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament. Serbian nationalists have won seats in Belgrade.
Are such outcomes acceptable to the Bush administration? If not, how will it respond? Given the war on terror, it is unlikely to simply take these electoral setbacks lying down.
But if Washington falls back on its traditional responses - covert operations, attempts to interfere in parliamentary votes with threats or bribes, or dependence on strong men like Musharraf - the people of the Middle East might well explode, because the only thing worse than living under a dictatorship is being promised a democracy and then not really getting it.
Juan Cole is professor of modern Middle Eastern and North African studies at the University of Michigan. He maintains a blog on Middle East affairs, Informed Comment.
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Allawi to Challenge Shiite Candidate for Iraq Prime Minister Post
By John Daniszewski
The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday 23 February 2005
A two-thirds majority is needed by Allawi, who holds the post as an interim leader, or the Shiite-led coalition's choice of Deputy President Ibrahim Jafari.
Baghdad - One day after the dominant Shiite-led coalition unanimously nominated Deputy President Ibrahim Jafari to lead the new Iraqi government, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said today that he will stand as a rival candidate for the job and try to build a winning coalition by reaching out to other political slates.
The bid by the secular Shiite Allawi against the religious Jafari, head of the Shiite-based Islamic Dawa Party, is a longshot because Jafari's slate holds a slight majority in the new National Assembly.
But with a two-thirds majority needed for the prime minister's post, Allawi's effort marked the beginning of what could be a drawn-out sequence of negotiations among the country's political players. It is also a test of wills in which each slate with seats in the new assembly will seek to maximize its leverage and put its imprint on the makeup and direction of the government.
Consultations reportedly were taking place today behind closed doors within Jafari's coalition, trying to come to consensus on its preferences of candidates for the country's main posts. Those jobs include president, two deputy presidents, speaker of parliament and key government ministries such as defense and internal security.
Direct consultations with other parties, particularly the Kurdish Alliance, were expected to follow in a few days.
As it stands, the United Iraqi Alliance, which nominated Jafari, holds 140 of the 275 assembly seats and would need to secure only 44 votes from outside its ticket to win the prime minister's job and form the government. Allawi's Iraqi List would need at least 144 votes from other slates to win.
The United Iraqi Alliance's position also appeared strengthened by reports today that two small parties with assembly seats had joined it, giving it nine more votes, for 149 of the 184 votes needed for a two-thirds majority.
The requisite majority is in easy reach for Jafari if his slate manages to work out a deal with either Allawi's list, which has 40 seats, or the Kurdish Alliance, which has 75. Leaders of the Alliance have said they would like to reach accord with both in order to form a government of national unity.
They also wish to win support from Sunni parties that did not participate in the election (and therefore do not have seats in the assembly) so that the country's Sunni minority, which is the main base of the ongoing insurgency, will be more likely to participate in the political process.
With either the Kurds or Allawi's slate in position as possible kingmaker, both insist they will hold out for key posts in the new government and guarantees on sensitive issues such as federalism and secular governance
Jafari, a 58-year-old doctor, has signaled a willingness to work with others and moderate his party's Islamist platform to take into account the diverse views of secular and non-Shiite parties.
However, the results of the historic democratic election Jan. 30, in which the United Iraqi Alliance won nearly half the votes and 140 out of 275 seats, means Allawi's list and the Kurds are too weak to construct a government on their own even if they pool their votes. Their only hope would be to secure large-scale defections from the Alliance.
Although many Alliance members are more secular than Jafari, the unanimous front the group presented Tuesday in nominating him for prime minister suggested that a large-scale vote swing was highly unlikely.
Veteran exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, Jafari's main secular rival within the Alliance slate, underlined Tuesday that the unity of the slate was now his main priority. Chalabi has been in a political feud with Allawi's camp, which seemingly would make any defection by him to Allawi more unlikely.
Speaking at a news conference, Allawi gave no hint about where he expected to find the additional support. He said only that he seeks a "democratic coalition that believes in Iraq and its principles."
As a secular politician who advocates a liberal model of government, Allawi might argue that he would be more appealing than Jafari to the United States, although it is unclear whether that would be a help or hindrance. He could also say that he would be more able to credibly reach out to Sunni elements who suspect Jafari of being tied to Shiite-led Iran.
Allawi made such appeals during his campaign without success. Despite heavy advertising and high visibility, his slate won only 14% of the vote.
With almost no chance of winning themselves, Allawi and the Kurds could together play the role of spoiler for the Alliance if they are not satisfied. While it is unclear what would happen if a stalemate occurred, the pressure to form a new government could force new candidates or new coalitions to emerge.
Allawi has warned in recent days that the Shiites should not seek an Islamic government or undertake a blanket program of de-Baathification that could amount to a purge of Sunni Arabs, backbone of the Baath Party that dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign.
Kurds also have demands. They include the largely ceremonial presidency for Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani, and promises that the Shiite alliance would not undermine Kurdish autonomy in the new Iraqi constitution to be written by a committee appointed by the assembly this year. They also will want the contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk under Kurdish administration.
Outside the national assembly, the new leadership will have to make peace with Sunni Arabs to stem the violence. The United Iraqi Alliance already has met with some Sunni scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and Arab nationalists to ask them to join in drafting the constitution, an Alliance spokesman said.
Some Sunnis remain skeptical.
"We are hearing that Iraqis are going to participate in the constitution, but so far no one has contacted us," said Mashaan Jaboori, a prominent Sunni politician from Mosul, which has become a hotbed for insurgent activity.
"Nobody has approached us," he told Al Hurrah television today. "Maybe they are still too busy."
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