File this under “Unthinkable in Saddam’s Iraq”:
Iraq’s female lawmakers are furious that only one member of the country’s new Cabinet is a woman and are demanding better representation in a government that otherwise has been praised by the international community for bringing together the country’s religious sects and political parties.
Although women make up a quarter of the 325-member parliament, only two ministries were offered to women—with a female candidate refusing one of them in protest—in the 44-member Cabinet that was sworn in on Tuesday. Female lawmakers cried foul and demanded more women be appointed.
Doubtless, many will cite this as evidence of a hopelessly dysfunctional Iraq and assert that “women had it better under Saddam.” Shame on them. Under Saddam, no one — man or woman — could “demand better representation” and expect to live long enough to utter the sentence that followed the demand.
But don’t believe a Western imperialist warmonger like me. Take it from Houzan Mahmoud, of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq:
“Just because we have a terrible situation at the moment doesn’t mean we need to glorify Saddam’s dictatorship.”
“During Saddam’s regime if you were not political you could lead a normal life, but for the majority of us who opposed the dictatorship, it was hell,” Mahmoud said. “You were either for the Ba’ath party under Saddam or you were subjected to torture, persecution and abuse. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, women did not have the right to establish women’s organizations and he also started to bring socially conservative norms into the constitution. So I don’t really like arguments that imply that Saddam Hussein’s regime was great.”
Make no mistake. Mahmoud goes on to criticize forcefully the state of affairs for women in Iraq today. But that, in itself, serves as a sterling refutation of the Saddam nostalgiasts. Given the choice between a hopeless dictatorship and a flawed democracy, only moral simpletons would defend the former.