How Iraqi democracy might look
Some Arab countries blend monarchies with parliaments and elections to form 'Oriental democracy.'
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"The early democracy of the United States was not really a democracy.... Real power was tightly controlled by small groups of white guys who owned land, had slaves, and whose wives couldn't vote," he says. "I think the transition comes with time. It comes with emergence of a middle class, it comes with prosperity."Skip to next paragraph
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One of the obstacles hindering the emergence of a true democracy is the artificial nature of the nation states in the Middle East. Most were carved out by Britain and France to suit their respective imperial interests in the wake of World War I and took scant account of the demographic complications that would ensue.
"Most of these countries don't make sense," says one analyst here. "None of these countries drew their own borders, none of them chose their own leaderships, none of them designed their governance systems, that's why they don't work very well.
"What has to happen is a process through which the peoples of the region sort out what kind of countries, what kind of sovereignties they want to live in."
Take Jordan. On paper, it is a constitutional monarchy with prime ministers appointed by the king and elections for an 80-seat House of Representatives. But in reality, power rests with the monarch and the tribal elite.
"There is no real constitutional monarchy in Jordan," says Chibli Mallat, a professor of international law at Beirut's St. Joseph University. The wielding of power "operates at the whim of the king," he adds.
Lebanon is perhaps the Arab country with the strongest democratic tradition. It has a 128-seat Parliament elected every six years, a Cabinet, and a prime minister appointed by the president in consultation with Parliament. To reflect the many sects in Lebanon, a power-sharing agreement exists whereby the president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim. Cabinet and Parliament have a 6 to 5 Muslim-Christian ratio.
Mr. Young argues that the checks and balances in the complicated power-sharing arrangements prevent the emergence of a dictator.
"Lebanon is a curious case," he says. "It is a semidemocracy. The system is corrupt, you have a political elite which imposes itself on the people, you have the traditional zuama [political bosses]. But the paradox is that this has created a balance of power in the system so that you don't have this one dictator emerging to crush all the communities."
Syria is the opposite. Like Lebanon, Syria has many different sects. But unlike Lebanon, the state in Syria has been traditionally strong.
Lebanon suffered a brutal civil war from 1975 to 1990 which arose in part from the weakness of the Lebanese state. The ruling regime in Syria, however, has ruthlessly crushed any sign of dissent. While Syrians have enjoyed more than three decades of internal stability, the price is paid in living under an authoritarian regime.