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Democracy and Iraq

There is a book called ‘Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms’ by Gerard Russell that describes all the religions that are in decline in the Middle East. The book is a cast of fantastical beliefs and practices dating back to before the Pyramids and the days of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

My favourite episode concerns a meeting Russell has arranged in Baghdad with the head of the Mandean religion in the Al Rashid Hotel. Mandeans are neither Muslim nor Christian and have been in decline for many years. Russell notes that Mandeanism dates back to the beginning of recorded history. The meeting, he says, is like being summoned to meet with the Knights of the Round Table or to meet with Odin himself.

I mention this because I have been selected to join the European Parliament’s Election Observation Mission ahead of this weekend’s election in Iraq (October 10th). We will be staying in the Al Rashid Hotel in the Green Zone.

I don’t mind admitting to being a bit nervous about the mission. Although this is the fifth election since the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty in 2007, security will be a paramount issue for our minders over the five days of our visit.

In my days with GOAL, it was an article of faith that you never brought armed security with you because that meant that you were not accepted in the community and really you had no business being there if the people didn’t want you there.

An election observation mission is very different. I will report more on this next week as we are limited in what we can say ahead of visit.

What I can say is that it really underlines how lucky we are to live in an open democracy. But we would be unwise to be complacent about it.

My experience of running in an election in recent times is not very reassuring. Things had changed between my last election in 2011 and the European elections in 2019. They are only small things but in 2019 we were not allowed canvass in certain areas, like the IFSC, or outside supermarkets. We were not allowed put up posters in certain towns across Dublin and I heard multiple examples of people being required to quit their jobs because they wanted to be candidates for election.

My view is that this should be specifically outlawed in Employment Equality legislation. You can’t be fired or disciplined for being in a union. How is it fair to fire someone for running in an election?

Don’t be surprised then when fewer candidates come forward, putting their lives on hold and putting themselves at considerable expense. It’s expensive, time-consuming and risky to run for election and we should celebrate anyone who goes to the trouble of putting their name on a poster.

The annual Democracy Index shows that just 8.4% of the world’s population live in a full democracy. That is a truly shocking figure in 2021, thirty years after the collapse of communism.

This year alone, we have seen the US Capitol stormed by conspiracy theorists seeking to overthrow the US government, the Taliban rout the Afghan government and its forces, and military coups in Tunisia, Guinea, Mali and Myanmar. India is no longer considered a full democracy according to Freedom House.

Closer to home, within our European Union, we see authoritarian Hungarian and Polish governments attempting to undermine all the progress of the past 30 years. There is no longer an independent media in Hungary or Poland. Jewish, migrant and LGBTQ+ minorities are fair targets for governments that actively promote white nationalism. In Hungary, universities have been placed under the control of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his allies, allowing him to exert pressure and influence.

When in Baghdad I will meet with representatives of the Chaldean religion, a Christian sect that is recognised by the Catholic Church and I have no doubt that I will be inspired to redouble my commitment to defend and promote democracy throughout my work as an MEP.

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