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  • Getting to Arab DemocracyWhat Do Iraqis Want?
  • Mark Tessler (bio), Mansoor Moaddel (bio), and Ronald Inglehart (bio)

Efforts to establish a new political order in Iraq have thus far concentrated primarily on the construction of new political institutions and the selection of leaders to run them. In the hope of putting Iraq on a path toward democracy, elections for a national assembly were held in January 2005; elected officials then established a transitional government and drafted a constitution that was approved by a referendum in October; and this phase of the process concluded with the election of a new parliament in December. Yet while activities of this sort are needed to initiate a transition to democracy, political-science research makes it clear that the views of ordinary citizens are critical for sustaining and consolidating a democratic regime.

As early as 1963, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba observed that "if the democratic model . . . is to develop in new nations, it will require more than the formal institutions of democracy—universal suffrage, the political party, the elective legislature. . . . A democratic form of participatory political system requires as well a political culture consistent with it . . . [of which] the norms and attitudes of ordinary citizens are subtler cultural components."1 Writing more recently, Ronald Inglehart made the same point: "democracy is not attained simply by making institutional changes or through elite level maneuvering. Its survival depends also on the values and beliefs of ordinary citizens."2 With respect to the [End Page 38] Arab world, Iliya Harik has emphasized that countries need not only democratic leaders, but also populations with a democratic political culture.3 Evidence in support of this proposition comes from research in many countries and world regions, including Latin America,4 East Asia,5 and Africa.6 And as Palestinian political scientist Ziad Abu-Amr observed following the January 2005 elections in the West Bank and Gaza, it will take far more than elections to build democracy in Palestine.7

Against this background, the present study analyzes the results of a survey of Iraqi citizens' attitudes toward governance and democracy. The survey, conducted in November and December 2004, gives particular attention to: 1) attitudes toward democracy; 2) attitudes about the political role of religion; 3) the relationship between political attitudes and views about the rights and status of women; and 4) the degree to which political attitudes differ among Iraq's ethnoreligious communities and are influenced by sectarianism.

Few Arab countries, if any, have been ruled by a government as efficiently brutal as the Ba'ath regime under Saddam Hussein (1979–2003). As Iraqi exile Isam al-Khafaji wrote in 1994:

[T]he Ba'ath regime has constructed a network of multiple intelligence apparatuses that pervades all aspects of Iraqi society. . . . Corruption, competition for influence and authority, and a rigid hierarchy have rendered this system highly effective in achieving one of its major objectives: promoting a sense of helplessness among the population.8

As described in a more scholarly study of Iraqi politics, the country evolved under Saddam Hussein from a "popular democracy" to a "totalitarian democracy," which was in fact no democracy at all. In the legislative elections of 1989, for example, "no opposition candidates were allowed to run; on the contrary, a yardstick even stricter than in the past was used to prevent the entry of opposition figures."9

In light of this dismal history, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a widespread desire for democracy among the Iraqi public. This desire is documented by a large survey conducted in Iraq in November and December 2004. With support from the National Science Foundation, and working in close collaboration with the Baghdad-based Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, the present authors designed and carried out a major survey of attitudes related to governance and other political and social issues. The survey is based on a representative area probability sample, with a total of 2,325 respondents interviewed in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces.10 At least 120 respondents (4.4 percent of the national sample) were interviewed in every province selected. Of all respondents, 68.9 percent reside in urban areas, with 22...


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