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Opinion: Two Ways to Achieve Federalism in the Near East - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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These have been difficult hours in the process of “liberating” the Iraqi city of Fallujah after its long suffering under the occupation of ISIS. The Syrian city of Raqqa, which ISIS has declared as its “capital” is expecting a similar fate within hours or days if we are to believe what we hear.

Indeed, there is no problem with liberating the two cities and saving their long suffering populations from the abuse of an extremist group that has incessantly distorted Islam and harmed it by pitting it in bloody and destructive confrontation against the whole world.

There is no problem with normal life returning to the two long enduring cities along with their environs, and beyond them, the whole of Iraq and Syria; two Arab countries that boast being cradles of world civilization for thousands of years and bastions of Arabism and Islam for more than 1300 years.

However, it is well known that what is being promoted by the international community as regards the military operations – as necessary as they really are – is not the overall picture of what is taking place. If one looks deeper into the political details and backgrounds of the current military campaign the least one can say is that the situation is worrying. While it may be excessive to compare the weak Iraqi regime to its murderous Syrian counterpart, neither is worth entrusting with safeguarding a healthy civil society, whereby the weak are protected and the ambitions of the strong majority and foreign meddling are kept in check.

Frankly, the Haider Al-Abadi government in Iraq is too weak to defend the Iraqi Sunni Arabs against the projects of Iran and its regional ‘military commissar’ Qasem Soleimani. Neither this government nor the fragile ‘compromise’ formula that maintains are capable of curbing Iran’s voracious appetite or persuade the Kurds of northern Iraq to respect Iraq’s national unity and territorial integrity under a proper federal system. Iran is really working for absolute hegemony over Iraqi territories up to the Kurdish ‘borders’ recognized and protected by the USA and the West. As for the Kurdish leaderships, despite their polite and skilful diplomacy, they aspire for full secession en route to establishing ‘Greater Kurdistan’ extending from the Mediterranean to the lands beyond the Zagros and Taurus mountain ranges in Iran and Turkey, respectively.

The Al-Assad regime, on the other hand, despite its pan-Arabist slogans, has uncovered throughout the past five years its ugly reality. It is now seen for what it is; a fascist, sectarian, clannish and clientelist regime that has nothing to do pan-Arabism, Socialism, ‘rejectionism’ (of American policies) and ‘confrontationism’ (against Israeli occupation). After killing hundreds of thousands and turning millions of Syrians into refugees, this regime has been kept in power by a ‘quadrilateral safety net’ provided by Iran, Russia, the USA and Israel.

As regards to its fake expansive pan-Arabist ‘unionism’, it has now shrunk to merely bolstering ‘Useful Syria’ and bargaining with secessionist Kurds on an ever expanding entity under dubious international sponsorship which gives credence to talks of ‘partition maps’ being drawn. Thus, if these maps in their Kurdish dimension adversely affect Turkey, they surely draw a big question mark on as what may be in store for other entities, presumably less immune than Iraq and Syria, such as Lebanon, Jordan and – of course – what remains of Palestine.

At the moment, futile debate continues about election reform in Lebanon, occupied by the forces of the ‘status quo’ and subjugated by the de facto authority of Hezbollah. Hezbollah – and subsequently Iran – insists on ‘proportional representation’ while keeping its weapons and security network and institution outside state jurisdictions. However, the Aounist ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ which is Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘Christian cover’ prefers a stark sectarian system whereby each religious sect elects its own members of parliament. Between this huge and strange gap separating the positions of the two erstwhile ‘allies’, different Lebanese parties and blocs have different preferences, such as ‘single constituency’ (one man, one vote) and ‘mixed system’ that combines PR and direct votes.

Worth discussing here is that before the ‘partition’ wars in Iraq and Syria broke out, the ‘Taif Agreement’ which helped end the Lebanese War (1975-1990) included two important points: the adoption of wide-powered administrative decentralization, and the founding of a senate elected along sectarian lines. Had the Lebanese implemented these two points, or were allowed to do so by the then Syrian ‘occupation authority’, Lebanon might have moved halfway toward a fair, viable, truly institutional and consensual electoral system.

Furthermore, such a system could have been prescribed to both Iraq and Syria where non-sectarian and non-racial ‘Arabist Ba’thism’ evolved to create two clan-based sectarian regimes; the first brought down by global interests in 2003 only to be replaced by foreign occupation, bloodbaths and a more sectarian alternative; while the second is being kept by these interests on the remains of nationhood and dreams of citizenship.

The Lebanese, stubbornly overlooking genuine ‘federalism’ that recognizes the rights of the majority and reassures the minorities, can clearly see the ‘other’ version of ‘federalism’; bloodshed and uprooting in Iraq and Syria, yet they still refuse to learn their lesson.

They can see what crimes ‘The People’s Mobilization’ (Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi) militia is committing in Fallujah after what it had perpetrated in Tikrit and Al-Muqdadyiah. They are also following what the Kurdish militias are ‘promising’ Raqqa, Tell Abyad and the Aleppo countryside after the atrocities of the Assad ‘shabbiha’ militias, their ‘allies’, as well as what their ‘masters’ have committed and continue to commit in Al-Qussayr, Al-Huleh, Darayya and Eastern Ghouta, but still they do not seem to be brave enough to take the right decision.

Today the Lebanese, unlike their Iraqi and Syrian brethren, have a unique chance to agree on a civilized federal system that could spare them a revisit to the devastating sectarian conflict and the ensuing suicidal calls for outside help which resulted in more than 150,000 people being killed during 15 years of war.

The whole Middle East is facing an unclear future, ‘carving out’ is underway, religious and racial extremism is ripe in Iran and Israel is threatening to destroy the present Arab entities with international collusion.

When are we going to wake up?

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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