A number of Arab observers have described the U.S.-led coalition’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein as an event that brought shame to the people of Iraq and to Arabs in general.
But where is the shame in allowing a brutal dictator, in Iraq or anywhere else, to fall? In fact, honor belongs to those who abandon a cruel tyrant or actively oppose him. And that’s just what many Iraqi military officers and enlisted men did: they refused to fight to keep Saddam Hussein’s corrupt and illegitimate regime in power. In doing this, they played a key role in lifting the yoke of oppression off their country and fellow Iraqis.
With Saddam Hussein gone, Iraqis are beginning to set up an interim administration that will lead to a democratically elected government. President George W. Bush expressed his confidence in Iraq’s future:
“The Iraqi people are fully capable of self-government. Every day Iraqis are moving toward democracy and embracing the responsibilities of active citizenship… The Iraqi people will choose their own leaders and their own government. America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture. Yet, we will ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government and all citizens have their rights protected.”
The opportunity that exists in Iraq could have a positive effect elsewhere in the region. U.S. officials have spoken of Iraq as a model for democratic reform. But other countries have already begun the process of political change. On April 29th, Qatar held a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution. It features a parliament made up of forty-five members, two-thirds of whom will be chosen in elections in which women can run and vote. Likewise, recent elections in Bahrain and Yemen are encouraging signs.
The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East. Arab nations like Iraq and Qatar may very well be on a path others will seek to emulate.