Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A different view of the Iraqi elections

Iraqi writer Fadhil Al-Rubaie calls in question the idea that the Iraqi local elections were an exercise in national democracy in any conventional sense. Rather, he says, they were subject to three factors that make them more likely a further step in the direction of national break-up.

(1) When the GreenZone government was created "on the rubble of the former state", as he puts it, one important element has always been missing, and that is the underlying function of a nation-state in guaranteeing the impartial application of the rules of the democratic game. In this case, the coalition of sects and ethnic groups (mainly Shiite and Kurdish factions) have very clearly showed themselves to be partisans exclusively. The writer calls them an "authority" (Sultat) rather than a government of a nation-state. For instance six local-election candidates were asassinated during the recent campaign, and the authority has shown itself powerless to do anything about it. One could come up with plenty of other examples. It is a basic point, but one that is often glossed over.

(2) The "democratic game" involved in the recent elections has been built on the same basis as the sectarian-allocations system. And the best proof of that is that the political parties "reverted to their sectarian habitats", with the Shiite parties contesting seats in local councils in the South and Center, and the Sunni parties in Anbar and the West. "They did not direct themselves to the Iraqi people in general".
This elimination of the general masses from the vote-getting strategies of the parties reflects in a tragic way the fact that sectarianism wasn't--and will not be--merely a political question that could be overcome by means of internal give and take. Rather, it is something that has struck deeply into the way of thinking politically....

[In other words], the "authority" has not only destroyed the traditional role of presumed neutrality of the nation-state in organizing the political game, but it has also caused the consecration of this idea of sectarian allocations.

(3) The third weird feature of this exercise is that Maliki's group which preaches centralism has no concept and no plan for linking centralism with organization of a federal system. And conversely, the Supreme Council, which advocates federalism in its electoral discourse, has no particular ideas about the future of Iraq as a single entity, on which it claims this federalism would be built.


Saturday's local elections, writes Fadhil Al-Rubaie, have had the effect of increasing the embarrasment and concern of some Iraqi politicians about the lack of clear answers to this question about the future of Iraq, and "they don't hide their concern ... that perhaps the elections have opened up 'the drawing of a map' for the dismantelment of Iraq and perhaps for its collapse".

In ancient history Iraq was formed from relations between the city-states of Sumer and Akkad. The writer reflects:
Many players...will find when national interests require it, and perhaps their own narrow partisan interests, when the national spirit in the country wanes as a result of submission, that they will push their towns in the direction of a return to the old competing "city-states", sometimes in the name of freedom, and sometimes in the name of general reconciliation.


AlRubaie's essay, printed in the Qatari paper AlArab, isn't an easy read. And I think for a Western person it might seem like a combination of the obvious (the Maliki government isn't impartial in any sense of the word or in any sphere of activity) and the obscure (sectarianism as having lodged so deeply in political thinking that it won't be eradicated).

But it isn't obscure at all.

Try looking at it this way: Imagine American state elections where one set of parties, the one controlling Washington, contested the Southern states, and a completely different set of parties contested the northern states--with some of the other Iraq-type conditions factored in, including the prior destruction of the state apparatus and continuing foreign occupation. With incoherent and competing rhetoric about "federalism" and "centralism". Would this type of election be seen as a major accomplishment for liberal democracy and national unity, or the reverse?


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