Here's something Americans don't often consider: is democracy always the best form of government? On Friday evening, delegates representing nearly every continent (no reps from Antarctica) gathered to discuss whether the following statement was true: "Democracy is not always the best form of government."
To say the least, it was fascinating. The session was as much a debate as it was history lesson, as delegates from Grenada, Eritrea and Uganda stood up to share the history of democracy in their respective countries. They brought their personal experiences of their countries struggle for democracy, struggles that made them question, indeed, whether it was the best form of government.
"When you city is destroyed, how can you say that democracy is a good thing?" asked a delegate from Kyrgyzstan, where, she said, two democratic revolutions rocked the country in five years.
One common theme was the need to prepare a country that's been living under a dictatorship for democracy, that democracy doesn't work in countries where the electorate is uneducated, illiterate or impoverished. Delegates fretted that a poor voter could easily be bought by a chicken or a can of beer when food is short.
"If someone is struggling, it doesn't matter if they can't read or write," said Antonio Cassa in an impassioned rebuttal. The 23-year-old delegate from Mozambique, who works for Coca-Cola, hopes to someday lead the nation. "[What] matters is that you ask him what the solution is."
An Australian delegate, Imteaz Ahmed, lamented the apathy of American voters, complaining that they seemed more interested in watching sports than the presidential debates.
"What is the point of having all this freedom if they're not going to use it?" he asked.
But perhaps the most interesting perspective came from Hasan Chichan, a 23-year-old medical student from Babylon, south of Bagdhad, who said he believed democracy worked best when it grew from within a country rather than when it is "introduced" (to put it euphemistically) from the outside.
I ran into him today on the convention floor on asked him to elaborate on his point.
For people who think is Iraq is better off now, Mr. Chichan said "I think it's a misperception ... at least for me. The majority of the people don't like the situation right now in Iraq because the democracy was too early."
Security, for him, is a major issue. In the past, he could cross the entire country without fear. But now, "I cannot go to my college feeling safe, which is a few blocks away."
As many had feared, politicians are exploiting sectarian tensions that had previously been kept under wraps under Hussein, he said. Before 2003, "we were Iraqi. After 2003, we were classified according to religion."
But he does not believe the divisions are authentic. Instead, they were resurrected by power hungry leaders looking to exploit identity politics. They're not interested in what's best for Iraq.
"They didn't really understand democracy. When you take down Saddam, there are others who are even worse than Saddam right now taking over the country."