Thursday, April 03, 2003

The yawning gap between rhetoric and practice

Katerina Dalacoura a Lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and author of Islam, Liberalism and Human Rights: Implications for International Relations comments in Observer
Everyone claims that their ultimate aim is the democratisation of Iraq. Whether it happens or not is another question. Political liberalisation depends on being driven domestically. It needs the people to assume responsibility for their internal affairs. Despite the atypical examples of Germany and Japan after World War two, this is not easily achieved as a result of outside intervention. And it is doubly difficult in a society which has been atomised and fragmented over decades of brutal repression.
Iraq did not have auspicious beginnings as a new nation state, its disparate Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parts having been cobbled together after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Its subsequent political history, long before the arrival of Saddam Hussein on the scene in 1968, was marked by instability and military interventions. Saddam Hussein's regime has been especially repressive but it is also a product of Iraqi history, a history makes democratisation difficult.
But perhaps not impossible. The question is, were it to take place, would a democratic transformation in Iraq then encourage reform in other parts of the region - and lead to a virtuous circle of democratic reform across the Middle East?
Not likely. Democratic transformation may spread by example if it is the outcome of 'people power' (as in Eastern Europe of 1989) not invasion. But there is another reason why democracy will not catch like wild fire in the Middle East, even if it strikes root in Iraq: the bearers of change are discredited in the eyes of its supposed beneficiaries. The divergence between Western rhetoric and practice has increased since that fateful day, with damaging effects for democracy and human rights in the Middle East.
Middle East dictators sleep more, not less peacefully in their beds after 11 September 2001. They have been better able to present themselves to Western governments as fellow victims of Islamist terrorism and indispensable allies in the struggle against it.
Although democracy and human rights have been pushed higher up the western foreign policy agenda, human rights policies are increasingly perceived as partisan and self-serving, pursued for the good of the West, not for the good of the Middle East. This further discredits the cause of democracy in the region. As often with human rights in foreign policy, its supposed beneficiaries consequently throw the baby out with the bath water, to the detriment of all concerned. As the 'day after' the war in Iraq approaches, policy makers take heed.
(posted by Iman)

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