FOR Munes al-Razaz, a prominent novelist and political activist, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not a model for a democratic Arab leader. Yet Mr. Razaz finds himself, like many of his peers, rallying behind Saddam in the current confrontation with the West. ``One does not really have an option but to support Saddam, for the crucial issue at stake is sovereignty and not democracy,'' Razaz says.
Razaz's dilemma is an example of the intellectual challenge posed by the Gulf crisis for Arab advocates of democracy. While the West views the conflict as that of an international campaign against a ruthless dictator, many Arab intellectuals back Saddam because they believe the struggle for democracy will be futile without asserting Arab sovereignty.
``There is no democracy when society's will is dictated by foreign domination,'' says Mazen Saket, a writer, who, like Razaz has been active in promoting democracy in Jordan.
But Razaz and Mr. Saket entertain no illusions about Saddam. Until 1979 both were members of the Iraqi wing of the Pan-Arab Baathist Party led by Saddam. Both left, disillusioned with the movement's ability to reconcile the struggle for democracy with national independence.
Razaz is the son of Munif Razaz, a Jordanian who served as assistant general secretary of the Baathist Party until he was dismissed in 1979 for opposing the Iraqi leadership's crackdown on leftists and freedom of expression.
``Repression should not be allowed to become a daily practice by the state,'' wrote the senior Mr. Razaz in his book, ``The Predicament of the Left.'' ``Such a policy is a fundamental violation of one of Baathism's basic principles, freedom.''
Mr. Razaz was under house arrest until his death in Baghdad in 1984. His son fled to Beirut, later returning to Jordan where he depicted his father's uncompromising struggle for democracy in a novel called ``The Confessions of a Gunsilencer.'' The book reflects the despair and disillusionment within the pan-Arab struggle for unity and freedom.
Ironically, just as the Iraqi regime's shortcomings shattered Razaz's dreams of Pan-Arabism, Saddam's challenge to Western interests in the region sparked new hope for achieving Arab sovereignty and unity.
``For the first time, the struggle for Arab unity and sovereignty on a democratic basis appears to be possible,'' explains Razaz, who argues that although he does not advocate the unification of the Arab world by force, the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait is relevant to Arab sovereignty.
According to this view, to which many intellectuals in Jordan subscribe, the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait heralds the beginning of ``a decolonization'' campaign which will pave the way for Arab unity and even democracy.
This scenario is derived from the philosophy of the Baathist Party - established in 1946 - that argues that Arab independence from foreign control is a prerequisite for the unification of the Arab world and its freedom.
Only through Arab control of Arab strategic natural resources - mainly oil - can Arabs undermine the US grip on the Arab world, the senior Razaz argued.
The Gulf states, including Kuwait, are viewed by Pan-Arab nationalists as an obstacle to Arab sovereignty because they mainly serve the interests of Western and multinational corporations.
According to Arab analysts, this theory gained new significance and broader support after the Soviet political pullout from the region left the area vulnerable to US and Israeli domination.
As a result of ``American hegemony,'' Razaz and Saket argue, Israel appears to be successfully containing the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied territories, while Western control of oil resources will push the Palestinian problem into oblivion.
Moreover, supporters of Saddam fear that Western domination of Arab oil-producing countries could prevent the emergence of an effective Arab economic bloc and impede collective Arab action to counter Israel.
How Arab intellectuals sympathetic to Saddam can hope that a man with his past will achieve unity without sacrificing their dream of democracy, is one of the paradoxes of this argument.
``The West is shedding crocodile tears for democracy,'' counters Ibrahim Baker, a lawyer and human rights advocate. ``After all, they are defending corrupt and repressive oil sheiks who still live in the Middle Ages.''
Furthermore, there appears to be optimism among intellectuals who support Saddam that the democratization drive gripping the world is ``irreversible.''
Intellectuals like Razaz and Saket believe that Saddam's challenge to the West is unwittingly unleashing a hitherto suppressed Arab popular movement.
``Times have changed,'' Razaz says. ``Saddam simply cannot succeed in leading the Arab world toward unity and sovereignty if he does not heed Arab popular will for democracy.''