Democracy …. The Most Important Lesson Learned from Iraq’s Occupation

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

Several intellectuals and law-scholars reaffirmed that there are so many lessons to be learnt from the crisis of Iraq’s occupation, out of which all Arabs can learn, particularly with respect to the need for democracy within Arab societies. This was the theme of a seminar organized by Ibn Roshd’s Salon, Cairo institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), titled: “Did the Arabs Learn from the Lessons of Iraq?”. At the beginning of the seminar CIHRS Director, Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan linked the events of April 2003 in Iraq and those of June 1967, wondering whether the Arabs have really absorbed the lessons of both events, and whether Sharm El-Sheikh and Aqaba summits, and the negotiation with Israel could be considered a kind of response to such lessons.

Ahmad El-Gammal, the journalist and Director of Al-Khaleej newspaper in Cairo, argued that there is nothing called lesson from Iraq, because to him getting the lesson means that all facts and documents have been disclosed, which is not the case yet with Iraq.

He turned to the fierce attack on Islamists and nationalists nowadays, emphasizing the importance of national conciliation among different political powers concerning minimum programs in order to achieve the optimum way method for discussing and solving the various issues.

Furthermore, the failure of Arabs to read their history well up to this moment in order to reach lessons that would protect them against all forms and levels of tyranny was referred to. He wondered whether the Arab reality defies party life, due to the fact that it is a rational idea that does not with an emotional society, such as that of the Arabs; and whether it is more appropriate for this type of society to find other political forms, as syndicates and non-governmental organizations and others.

Al-Gammal reflected on a grave occurrence in Arab reality, namely, the promotion of the benefits of colonization, as was the case in the aftermath of the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, which is being repeated nowadays vis-à-vis the American occupation of Iraq, where some people see in it some uses and usefulness and promote that.

The Leftist leader Eng. Ahmad Bahaa’ Ed-Din Sha’ban, the member of the Egyptian People’s Campaign to Support the Iraqi People, started by pointing to several previous lessons which the Arabs had not benefited from. Among the examples he gave were the setback of 1948, and the defeat of the cultural renaissance project initiated by Mohammad Ali. He maintained that any positive power emanates from Egypt and then extends to the rest of the Arab world; this is why there are risks lurking to harm Egypt as was the case with Mohammad Ali and Jamal Abdul Nasser.

Sha’ban maintained that the current reality of Iraq is that it has become an occupied country, governed by what is called the American-British alliance, with continuous resistance operations and attempts at extending the power of occupation throughout Iraq. On the other hand, the disclosure of falsity of the American pretexts to enter Iraq (among which were Iraq’s ownership of mass-destruction weapons) makes us wonder about the real American-British motives – basically being the defense of their own interests rather than being the confrontation of a coercive regime or the search for mass-destruction weapons.

He believes that there are several basic lessons that can be attained from the events in Iraq: coercive regimes cannot face any threat, be it external or internal, and they only defend the narrow ruling elite and mercenaries linked thereto.

The second lesson is that only the people can feel dignity and belonging to the homeland and its wealth, it is the only entity capable of defending the country in the face of external threats and to overcome them irrespective of the gap in the power possessed thereby and that of the enemy’s. The third lesson is that freedom is not a gift from stronger parties, and that no foreigner lusting after the wealth of a country can grant freedom to its people, because the people that owns freedom will resist the usurper. He concluded by betting that the US will never bring in freedom or democracy, because it is an illusion promoted by the American lobby in the Arab region.

Sha’ban reiterated that victory in the battle of democracy is linked to the development of internal powers in any society, and that awaiting for democracy to be granted on a silver platter offered by the invaders is a great illusion. He further added that any change brought about by the invaders will never be in the interest of internal forces, but only serves the interests of the occupiers, even if this change is superficially liberal and democratic.
He added that the process of change in society must be considered a matter of life or death for society itself, not a mere response to external pressures, the case which necessitates the pursuit of building a free society and a courageous citizen.

From his point of view, it is also inevitable that Arab societies with their different intellectual perspectives consolidate in a joint struggle for building a democratic society based on transparency, anti-corruption, and anti-violence as a tool for achieving a radical change. Moreover this society must be based on acknowledging the right to peaceful expression of opinion, delegation of power, and making a new beginning accommodating all players.

Sha’ban warned the intellectuals from getting carried away by following the minor details of the events in Iraq without pausing objectively for discussing their lessons. He maintained that the challenges facing governments in Egypt, Saudi, Iran, Syria, and others must be significantly taken into account.

Dr. Jihad Awda, Professor of International Relations in Helwan University, said that an event with the magnitude of that taking place in Iraq is complex and still needs further investigation. Therefore, any analysis thereof is done within the framework of limited and often distorted information.

Dr. Awda added that we live within an international order going through an unprecedented strategic moment represented in its unipolarity. He argued that such is not fully apprehended on the Arab scene due to what he described as the lack of real political culture and historical experience in independence in the Arab world.

Moreover, the weak experience of independence in the Arab world, unlike that enjoyed by other countries such as France and England, makes the Arabs required to defend this independence without really knowing what they are doing, and whether they should collaborate with America and protect their long term interests or not!

Pursuing the same line of argument, he maintained that the Arabs are facing another problematic, namely that of resistance. Dr. Awda said that the nations and the countries in crisis immediately feel the need for resistance. Arabs, however, according to him, do not have models of resistance. In fact, the existing models in modern history are but three and have only taken very short periods of time. There were no brilliant models, nor did the Arabs have a theoretical one for civil resistance in a country such as the extremely bureaucratic Egypt.

Dr. Awda believes that the existing models only offer propagandist talk. Furthermore, despite the well-intentioned attempts, still no balance or support is created thereby for the idea of resistance. On the other hand, Arabs lack any store of technology and production, being only left with anger and frustration most of the time.

He discussed similar other problematic issues, such as what he described as the disappearance of the idea calling for the strategic necessity within the current world order. He pointed to the fact that the UN Resolution no. 1483 gives ample evidence that the UN’s task is not to preserve the independence of countries but to play the role of their guardian.

Another problematic is represented in the pursuit of change and democracy, while at the same time opposing those who demand the same values for Arab societies. He gave the example from several Egyptian documents by intellectuals demanding democracy and human rights. However, when a state demanded in the international order (United States) this, it was refused and the state was described by being imperial. He therefore, wondered whether the Arabs are able to distinguish democracy and colonialism, and warned that unless the national group finds a solution for this problematic itself, a solution will imposed thereon from above.

Another problematic was addressed is that of integration with the rest of the world while keeping the national culture at the same time. He maintained that the national group is requested to exert intellectual efforts in this regard rather than suffice by refusal or reservation as was the case in the thirties and the forties of the twentieth century.

Mr. Negad Al-Bourai, the attorney-at-law and the director of former Group for Democratic Development (GDD), started by pointing to the difference between the events of June 1967 and those of April 2003. To him the differences are represented in the fact that the intellectual and political leadership in Egypt had the courage to acknowledge the defeat, and President Nasser had talked about his responsibility and then about the fall of the intelligence state, giving then the 30 March statement wherein he talked about the centers of power and the absence of democracy.

Al-Bourai claimed that despite the absence of the Iraqi regime, still the heard voice is that of sympathizers speaking about conspiracy against Iraq and the betrayal of Saddam Hussein. He criticized the treason by Egyptian intellectuals, because although Saddam had not done any effort to directly support the Palestinian cause, he was turned into a man of Arab nationalism set on freeing Palestine.

He enumerated the lessons from the Iraqi crisis represented in the importance or acknowledging defeat, the reformulation of the relationship between the ruling elite and the intellectual leaders in the Arab world, finally the “suspicious” consideration of those who blabber about nationalism, and finally to look into the background of the relationship between intellectuals in Egypt and authorities in different parts of the region – of course including Egyptian authorities.

Among the lessons learned, according to El-Bourai, is that democracy must come with foreign aid, claiming that the national Egyptian leader Mustafa Kamel had become a historical person due to his tour of France for the advocacy of liberating Egypt. His opinion is predicated on the fact that tyrannical governments block all the venues of democracy. He gave the example of the first newspaper issued in Iraq that was affiliated with the communist party in Iraq, and of the first demonstration that was Shiite – the two parties (communists and Shiites) to be subject to coercion on the hands of Saddam.

He added that the post-occupation events proved that those advocating the division of Iraq are mistaken, because the situation shows the accord between the interests of the Americans and the desire of the Arab nationalists to keep Iraq unified.

Further, national regimes, he maintained, might lose their characteristic identity when they hold alliances with religious fascism, giving the example of the use of the expression “Allah is Greatest” on the Iraqi flag by Saddam and his Islamization of the Iraqi state.

The opinions expressed by the aforementioned speakers raised a heated debate. Ahmad El-Gammal pointed to the fact that Mustafa Kamel was trying to create a public worldwide opinion, demanding the refusal to surrender to the American will, or to internal defeat, as well as the avoidance of any opinions that lead to weakness.

Eng. Sha’ban criticized the campaign mobilized against people opposing the American invasion of Iraq, and their accusation with taking instructions from Saddam Hussein. He added that this is but a distortion of national standpoints refusing war, confronting imperialism, and defending Arab interests. He also touched upon the role of the American intelligence in promoting this distortion.

He emphasized that Arab peoples have a large reserve of national experience in resisting colonizers, and called for refraining from accusing opposing thought with perfidy and for focusing on the real impasse through which the Arab region passes, maintaining that the Egyptians were among the most people harmed by the American invasion of Iraq.

He pointed to the manner with which the Syrian government absorbed the lesson of the Iraqi lesson by getting to know what the American Administration desires and doing it immediately. He added that the image of the Iraqi people prior to 9 April 2003 has changed before the Arab public opinion in a shocking manner.

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