An excellent article in the website 1001 Iraqi Thoughts surfaced an issue that keeps recurring in different parts of the world at different times. The author, Ahmad Tabaqchali, in his article posits that Iraqi youth are increasingly leaning toward a more authoritarian government much in the model of Erdogan’s Turkey. He sees, quite rightly this as a disturbing trend.. His premise is that the corruption, bloated Iraqi bureaucracy, and general poor administration has the youth yearning for a more orderly economic environment. The author then goes in exhaustive detail to illustrate that the Turkish economic stability and recovery beginning in 2001 has little to do with the rule of Erdogan, and in some cases may be in spite of it. Obviously he sees the state of the economy as the primary reason for this trend toward a return of Saddamism.
Poor economic conditions is a critical factor in the rise of authoritarian governments, One need only look back to post WWI Germany and the rise of Hitler to prove that. However, in the Middle East there are other very important factors which mitigate against the democratic concept. I would point out three; first and foremost the lack of a civil society, secondly, to a lesser extent, tribalism and fundamentalist Islam. Thirdly the lack of emotional or ideological appeal of democracy to the young and impressionable.
First of all when we refer to a civil society we are really talking about non governmental organizations through which citizens may effect their lives. Examples include, organizations like the Kiwanis club, Lions club, local Chambers of Commerce., etc. The keys are m non governmental and local. The Arab world has very few of these, especially in a local sense. Almost every organization has some governmental control or is monitored by the security forces. Everything flows from the top. Almost nothing bubbles up from the bottom. When I was in Iraq people complained vociferously that under Saddam that had gas for their cars but under the Coalition provisional government, power and gas were scarce. After quite a while some of the neighborhoods in the more affluent districts were able to hook up large generators to serve a number of homes, but many never moved to do anything The concept of working toward a common good outside the family or tribal affiliation simply was not contemplated and rarely put to use. No doubt the centralized authoritarianism of Arab regimes which eliminate any autonomy of local governments, will continue to stymie the growth of a civil society.
Secondly despite the fact that the Arab nomadic tribal organizations have almost entirely disappeared, the tribal family ties remain strong and in some cases, because of the ripping apart of Arab society by war and sectarian strife has actually increased. While some Islamic non governmental organizations exist they are carefully scrutinized by security authorities. Families in dire need rarely have any civic support group or organization to assist them. Colonel Augustus Richard Norton, the most insightful and prolific writer on middle eastern civil society has written that , “Until political groupings that transcend family, tribe or clan are allowed to develop, pluralistic politics of the sort that support democracy cannot thrive.”Colonel Norton rejects the idea that Islam retards development of a civil society. In my view that is a nod toward political correctness necessary in the academic milieu in which he now teaches, It is very difficult for me to envision a civil society developing within a Sharia environment and the current demand for conformance of piety in the public sphere. In addition to the political authoritarianism common in the Arab world, the “Islamic Revival” has added a measure of cultural authoritarianism which retards the birth of a civil society.
Finally it has to be recognized that democracy is not a “cool” or sexy concept, It is a political system, not an ideology and does not promise a perfect universe or a utopia . The totalitarian ideologies of the past century, communism, fascism, and now Islamism promise absolutes, a heaven on earth ,with a special place for intellectuals and the elite guiding the masses. As famously attributed to Winston Churchill,, “Democracy is the worst form of government…….except for the all the rest.” Democracy, full of imperfections, where the “little” people have a vote….. much to the dismay of the elite….. plodding, inelegant, like “sausage being made,” is unappealing to the youth everywhere. For instance, in this country we have the half- educated intelligentsia rediscovering the wonders of socialism.
When whenever I hear some moron ruefully lamenting the fact that our electoral system does not support the “majority rules” system, and negates what is, in reality the dictatorship of the majority, I salute the genius of our founding fathers, and the built- in system of checks and balances they devised.