Also on Iraq's western border, Jordan, long one of the United States' chief allies in the Middle East, remains under the rule of a monarch. Although King Abdullah and his father King Hussein have promoted a largely pro-Western foreign policy (with the exception of Hussein's support for Iraq in the first Gulf War), Jordanians have very limited freedom of association, assembly or the press. Even last year's elections for Jordan's lower house of parliament -- which many hoped was the harbinger of greater freedom for Jordanians -- produced a disturbing result: About 20 percent of the seats went to extremist Islamists, who are the biggest threat to democracy in the region.
Speaking of Islamists, the mullahs who rule Iran on Iraq's eastern border -- though not Arab -- share many of the other characteristics of the area's tyrants. Although Iran boasts an elected parliament, the country is actually governed by the Council of Guardians. These Shiite clerics control the judicial branch and must approve all legislation passed by the parliament and choose which candidates may run for elected office.
When Iraqis choose their own government in free elections, it will mark the first time in history when ordinary Arabs can claim to control their own destiny in their own nation. Syria's Assad, the Saudi royal family, even Jordan's Abdullah must be nervous as they watch events unfold. If the Iraqi people are capable of governing themselves, why not the Syrians, the Saudis or the Jordanians? Likewise, the radical clerics who control Iran must also be nervous as they watch events unfold in Iraq. Both Syria and Iran are believed to be funneling aid to the insurgents trying to prevent Iraq from its democratic future. Let us hope the Iraqi people will prevail against these obstacles -- for their sake and ours.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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