Majid Muhammed Yousef yearns for democracy. As an Iraqi Kurd, he and his family suffered tremendously under Saddam Hussein. After the
But the first four months of
At the end of May, a group of US soldiers came to his neighborhood in a dangerous section of
At the meeting, the soldiers announced that they were going to supervise elections for a local council and asked people to put themselves forward as candidates. The council members would not be paid, they were told, but they would receive the assistance of the
Majid was happy to see this initiative, but he decided not to put his name forward for the local council. He didn’t like the American occupiers. He cringed when he saw the soldiers barreling down the narrow streets in their ferocious tanks, guns pointed at the locals. “It’s just like
But his neighbors pushed him forward. Majid was a natural community leader. When the garbage had piled up in streets, threatening the health of the community, Majid used his own money to have a truck come clear it up. When robbers were entering the shop on the corner, Majid quickly gathered a group of men to chase them out of the neighborhood. He was a local hero and the people clamored for him to represent them. “I reluctantly entered the race at the last minute and got 55 of the 80 votes,” he recalled. Then he broke into a smile and said, “Imagine if I had campaigned. It would have been a landslide.”
Five local council members were selected from a slate of 11. Majid, the highest vote getter, was made president.
The elections took place on June 2, and their first meeting with the
A few days later the Americans came to Majid’s house with an assignment. They wanted him and the council to do a report about the neighborhood’s problems and suggest solutions. They also wanted him to do an inventory of the weapons people kept in their homes. He bristled at the latter task, feeling it was too intrusive and an attempt to make people even more helpless by taking away their ability to defend themselves. But Majid set about the first task with great enthusiasm. He and his fellow council members went from house to house, asking for input. They came up with a thick report chock full of suggestions that ranged from turning off the electricity during the day so it could be on in the evening to keep away the nocturnal looters to outlawing dark windows in cars so they could see who was driving in them.
With a great sense of accomplishment, the council finished its report on June 11, a mere 9 days after they were elected. When they went to turn in the report, however, they were told that the council had been disbanded and they should go home.
Majid and his fellow council members were stunned. They were given no reason for their dismissal. In less than two weeks, they had been elected and fired. It made no sense.
“Perhaps we made too many suggestions. Perhaps they didn’t like our suggestions,” said Majid, struggling to find an explanation. “Or perhaps this is democracy, American-style. In any case, what can we do? They are the occupiers and we are the occupied.”
* Medea Benjamin is the founding director of the human rights group Global Exchange and the
Medea Benjamin: firstname.lastname@example.org, in