Sunday, May 21, 2006

A liberal democracy without a middle class?

A New York Times article of May 19, 2006 says that a lot of middle class Iraqis, who can afford to leave the country for desinations like Jordan and Syria, are leaving. Of course, there is no news in this piece of information - what else can you expect in a society fraught with a civil-war-type situation? What makes it interesting is the political context in Iraq where democracy is struggling to get on its feet.

It is safe to assume that democracy in any country rests on the shoulders of a sizeable middle class who have a strong stake in social stability. A good example of the contrary is Afghanistan, where middle-class professionals fled during the turbulent 80s and 90s, which is making the task of rebuilding the social infrastructure difficult now. I suppose the condition in Palestine cannot be too different. Arguably, a good proportion of the expatriates in places like these return when the situation improves; but then an initial failure to return feeds off itself - the lack of a big middle class dampens the political will for stability, which in turn keeps more expats away.

Now, put this in the context of the Americans' avowed desire to establish a democratic society in Iraq. Is the attainment of regime change valuable enough to offset the political price of a middle-class vacuum and a slothful democratic process as a consequences? Now, as the Americans are rattling their sabres and crying for regime change in Iran, I wonder if any lessons have been taken from Iraq.

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