One of the most enduring images of the Arab uprisings so far has been that of Muammar al-Qadhafi being assaulted, and eventually murdered, after his capture. The fact that this was done at the hands of people who were portrayed as being pro-democracy activists captured a lot of the debate surrounding the ”Arab Spring”—were the events in Egypt a revolution or a coup? Are Libya’s new rulers concerned about democracy and human rights, or are they using these terms because they know that they are held in such reverence by the Western powers that they needed on their side to make sure Qadhafi fell?
For me, the image of Qadhafi being sodomised then killed captured his legacy. The people that did that to him came from the generations that were raised in his Libya. They are a product of Qadhafi rule. Had the last 42 years in Libya been ones in which human rights were respected, I very much doubt that he would have suffered this fate. If Libyans been brought up to believe that the judiciary was fair, and that justice could be administered through the courts, then perhaps Qadhafi would have been handed to them. The fact is though, the institutions in Qadhafi’s Libya, like those in many of the countries in our region, were bastardised extensions of the government itself.
In Iraq, we had/have the same issue. There were no independent institutions during Saddam’s tyranny. There was a hope that proper, independent ones could be created from scratch after the war, but to what extent has this been a success? The only institution that I can think of that exhibits a semblance of autonomy from the government is the Central Bank, and that is because its governor has admirably resisted massive pressure from the Ministry of Finance to bring it under its influence. The Trade Bank of Iraq, one of the most successful organisations in post-war Iraq, was effectively taken over by the government when its chairman was hounded out of the country last year, and replaced by Hamdiya al-Jaf, who is apparently far less capable. Worryingly, it doesn’t seem to matter that the bank is now far weaker now than it was when it was independent.
One of the key challenges is that there seems to be little or no understanding of what constitutes independence, either among the government, or the people. The lines that separate the government and the state are blurred; the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary are all one in the minds of many. It shouldn’t be left to the government to address the issue—its not in its interest to, and quite plainly, it won’t. Perhaps this is where Ali Latif’s ideas on grassroots change come in. Pressure needs to be applied from the bottom-up, but for this to happen, a better understanding of the importance of institutions needs to be grasped in the first place. This is something that diaspora Iraqis are well equipped to help with. But how to go about doing so? That is the question.