Freedoms Granted, Freedoms Restricted

In the days preceding and following the referendum about the constitution in Iraq, we read varied opinions of Arab writers, some welcoming the constitution and some condemning it. Anyway, the Iraqi people voted in the unfortunate conditions we all know, and under pressures of weapons, terrorism, occupation and other economic and social discomfort. We just do not know what may be the best conditions required after three major wars and a violent collapse of the Baath regime. Since these are the facts, like it or not, there are not so many choices offered to the Iraqi people, and those among the « Arab brothers » who think it fair to encourage such or such social group to undermine the political process, on the grounds that « it is not enough democratic », should look at themselves first, and honestly answer the question : are their regimes enough democratic ? Fortunately, the Arab League seems to wake up after a long lethargy. In Baghdad, M. Amru Moussa invited all the Iraqi groups to show more responsibility towards the political process.

As to the other Arabs who continue to think that the ongoing process is negative for the future of democracy in Iraq, it is necessary to remind them that their own countries need them for the same task : building democracy. Besides, is it that not the problem of the Iraqis? Why should we interfere?

And since we are talking about constitutions and democracy, let us recall the last Arab Human Development Report( 2004), which says : “Arab constitutions assign the regulation of rights and freedoms to ordinary legislation, which tends to restrict the right in the guise of regulation” . “As a result, many constitutional texts addressing rights and freedoms, whatever their own shortcomings may be, lose much of their worth, turning into an empty facade for the benefit of the international community.”

Thus, without reducing the complexity of the problems that the Iraqis will have to tackle in these days, this country is far from being an exclusivity in this context.

As an example, the A.H.D. Report cites a number of areas where constitutional protections are inconsistent with actual practices. Maybe, it is advisable to compare some of these inconsistencies with the Iraqi case:

Freedom of assembly: Most Arab constitutions provide for freedom of assembly, but many countries prohibit or restrict the exercise of the right to strike, demonstrate, hold mass gatherings or assemble peacefully. At least, today in Iraq, people can gather and demonstrate .

Freedom of speech and expression: Constitutions provide for freedom of thought, opinion, and belief but dissemination of information and ideas, in newspapers, publications, radio and television is considered a dangerous activity warranting a panoply of bans, restrictions and deterrent sanctions. In Iraq, you have just to look at the extraordinary boom of free publications and media.

Press freedom: Press freedom in 11 Arab countries can be blocked or curtailed by regulations that permit prior or post-printing censorship; newspapers require a license to publish and journalists’ right to obtain information and news is assured in law in only five Arab states:

Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen. In Iraq, free expression is today a fact.

The right to form political parties: Political parties are, in principle, permitted in 14 Arab countries although laws severely restrict their establishment and operations. It happens that inside many of the countries blaming the Iraqi constitution for lack of democracy there is prohibition of the formation of political parties (and we just do not need to name them : it is in the Report).

Civil society organizations: Outside of Lebanon and Morocco, it is extremely difficult to set up non-governmental organizations. It is not the case in Iraq today.

The right to legal recourse: Arab constitutions uphold the independence and inviolability of the judiciary but in practice, the Executive maintains a significant presence within most court systems and can often nullify other constitutional provisions.Etc…

Indeed, such comparisons are necessary, at least because the rest of the Arab countries –” with the exclusion of the Palestinian territories –” is in principle free of foreign occupation and secure.

Despite this, one wonders : where is democracy ?