One of the most stunning moments after the collapse of
Saddam Hussein’s regime was the rush of tens of thousands of celebrating
Iraqi Shiites into the streets in response to the call of their most
revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It was a stark demonstration
of Shiite power, one that may have unnerved those Americans who believe in
the possibility of a secular, democratic Iraq.
The moment was also a harbinger of a larger trend across the Middle East,
one that poses difficult, long-term challenges for U.S. foreign policy:
More and more Arabs identify themselves as Muslims first.
This trend is evident in a survey I conducted last month in six Arab
countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United
Arab Emirates. It is related to another, more enduring phenomenon: the Arab
public’s perception of their mostly authoritarian governments.
Respondents to my survey believe that the war in Iraq has made the region
even less democratic. A possible – and remarkable – consequence of this
perception is that most Arabs polled said that they wanted the clergy to
play a bigger role in politics