Michael Totten

Iraq is Not the First Arab Democracy

I have a new piece in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal where I make the case that Lebanon is now what we hope Iraq someday will be: Lebanon the Model.

BEIRUT, Lebanon–Of all the rationales for demolishing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the most compelling was the Middle East’s desperate need for at least one free Arab democracy to act as a model and an inspiration for oppressed and demoralized citizens in the others. So far it is not working out, despite the recent successful elections. Most talk of Iraq on the Middle Eastern street revolves around occupation, terrorism and war. Iraq is not yet a model for anything. It looms, instead, as a warning. Hardly any Arab wants his country to become another Iraq. In time that may change, but right now that’s just how it is.

Lebanon, though, is an inspiration already–despite the assassinations and the car bombs that have shaken the country since February. I have an apartment in Beirut, and I recently traveled to Cairo. Arriving back here was like returning to the U.S. from Mexico. Almost everyone I met in Egypt–from taxi drivers all the way up to the elite–was profoundly envious when I said I live in Beirut. “It is a free and open city,” I told them, but they knew that already. Many Americans and Europeans still think of Beirut as a hollowed-out, mortar-shattered necropolis where visitors are well-advised to bring a flak jacket. Egyptians, though–at least the ones I talked to during my stay–know the truth.

Please go read the whole thing.