Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Democracy and Monarchy as Antithetical Terms? Iraq's Elections of September 1954

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Democracy and Monarchy as Antithetical Terms? Iraq's Elections of September 1954

Article excerpt

Historian Bernard Lewis observes: "Americans tend to see democracy and monarchy in antithetical terms; in Europe, however, democracy has fared better in constitutional monarchies than in republics"1. Let us take this opportunity to consider elections held in the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq during the Cold War, in order to assess how"democracy" fared during the years that country was a constitutional monarchy. As we do so, let's keep Saad Eskander's words in mind:

"You cannot have democracy in Iraq by just holding elections... You need to enable Iraq's core of citizens to have free access to information, absolutely all, all of legislation. You have to have all the cultural and educational institutions so that they could sort the truth of Iraq"2.

The Hashemite kingdom witnessed elections to the Chamber of Deputies twice during 1954: in the early summer, and again in the autumn. While most historians of the monarchy have chosen to analyze the June polls (which Adeed Dawisha called "perhaps the freest of all Iraqi elections"3, which Eric Davis considered an event when "the monarchy relaxed its control over the electoral process"4, and Charles Tripp evaluated "the freest elections yet held in Iraq"5) this essay will draw attention to the comparatively-neglected September voting to assess Lewis' generalization.

Iraq's Constitution delineated a western-style political system. Article 28 vested legislative power in the Palace and a bicameral Parliament. Iraq's delegate to the United Nations Dr. Fadhil al-Jamali (and professional explicator of local affairs for foreigners) explained: "The legislature is constituted of two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies, with its members elected by the people in the ratio of one deputy for every twenty thousand males of twenty-one years of age and over, and today consisting of 135 deputies", and a appointed senate6. The king was empowered to open, adjourn, prorogue, and dissolve the Chamber, and earmark members for the Senate.

The British designed a public order for the country after the First World War which was not without its merits; it is often forgotten that Iraq was the first Arab state admitted to the League of Nations (in 1932, four years before Egypt, and thirteen years before Egypt and Lebanon). While Egypt was still disengaging from the Capitulations and other restrictions on the full exercise of sovereignty, the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq was signing a Saadabad Pact with Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan1. And after the Second World War, when Egypt's leaders had suspended their country's Constitution, Iraqis still enjoyed the protections of Constitutional provisions with their English- derived models of liberty.

One of the dominant metaphors the UK intelligence community used at that time to conceptualize politics in Iraq was to compare it with eighteenth-century English politics. Freya Stark compared the difficulties between Kurds and "the Iraqis of the plain", with those "eighteenth-century Scottish Highlanders" caused the English; she returned to this motif twice, in East is West (1946) and also in The Arab Island: The Middle East, 1939-1943 (1946). This comparison helped foreign academics such as Lewis understand a dynamic situation: as Timothy Mitchell observed:

"The task of social science, like all science, is to simplify, to identify a limited number of more decisive agents; why not accept a simpler but more powerful story, one that can depict the big picture and even identify certain patterns or predictions?"2.

What this comparison between Cold War Iraq and Georgian England neglected were Iraq's rulers' foreign cultural origins. The royal family and the leaders of the Senate spoke Ottoman Turkish, since after 1894, instruction in that language was mandatory in all the Empire's schools. Prime Minister Nuri es-Said had attended the military academy in Istanbul, joining the Ottoman army in 19083, and Iraq's representative at the United Nations Dr. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.