Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Iraq Era - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

Regardless of whether it is Nuri al Maliki’s or Iyad Allawi’s bloc that will emerge victorious in the Iraqi elections, initial indications up until the publication of this article show that Allawi has won Arab Sunni governorates and al Maliki has won Arab Shia governorates. In geographical terms, Allawi has won western Iraq and some of its northern parts, whereas al Maliki has won southern Iraq and most of the central areas of the country. So the fight for Baghdad, the jewel of the Iraqi crown, continues.

Either al Maliki or Allawi will win the majority of votes but whoever wins would have done so by the skin of his teeth.

What’s striking is that in the electoral programs of competing lists they all praise national unity and reject sectarianism. Just for the record, the list headed by Allawi, who is a secular Shia, includes conservative Shia, while the list headed by al Maliki, who is a Shia Islamist, includes Sunni figures from Western Iraq. Moreover, new lists were formed from existing lists without us, as observers, noticing any “methodical” differences in programs and visions. For example, turbaned liberal Iyad Jamal Aldin broke away from Allawi’s list and perhaps the motive behind that was the desire to compete and personal ambition. This is quite understandable as part of human nature, especially within the realm of politics.

Another striking point about the Iraqi parliamentary elections is the ease with which political figures can switch from one list to another without even a second thought or without fearing that the electoral base will question the significance of this move. This phenomenon was cleverly tackled by Iraqi writer Hamid al Kafaei in his latest article published in Al Hayat newspaper. Can this be attributed merely to personal aspirations to rise to power or to have a share in power regardless of any political vision or actual plan for the future? I believe the high level of tolerance shown by the Iraqi people towards the u-turns made by Iraqi politicians can be attributed to the “frailty” of the national culture in Iraq and in the entire Arab world and to the nature of instinctive partisanship that controls the public and makes it justify the actions of its party, tribal or sectarian leaders therefore changing its own directions towards the direction of its leaders. In the end, a leader manoeuvres and shifts and changes slogans to protect their instinctive supporters; slogans, policies and ideologies are nothing but tools used to preserve the interests of the leader’s supporters. Those interests boil down to the mentality of profit and gain, taking and controlling the biggest piece of the pie or the entire pie if possible!

We have seen tribal sectarianism in Lebanon and how Wiam Wahab turned into an angel and spoke like Gandhi, advocating peace and harmony and sowing the seeds of love among his rivals in an attempt to get over his grievances! It is worth mentioning that Wahab used a language of mass destruction against his rivals, Syria and Iran. We also saw how Walid Jumblatt, who violated the sanctity of Hezbollah and threatened to open the gates of hell to the agents of Iran and Syria, is back today to question the patriotism of the Baath party in Lebanon and the Revolutionary Guard Corps on the outskirts [of Beirut] and in southern Lebanon. The same can be said of most other leaderships. What’s amazing is that the supporters of these leaders have no problem changing their stance in accordance with their leaders’ disposition!

We are not talking about the necessities of pragmatism, the gracefulness of political moves and the flexibility of tactics; what counts here is preserving the essence. However, unfortunately, this essence has faded away. So what essence are we talking about?

If we define politics as a front for serving national or patriotic strategies then we can safely say that politics does not exist in the Arab world. Instead, there are semi-politicians who try to fool the masses in order to remain in positions of power. Because the strength of any leader is basically determined by the influence he has among the masses and by the number of followers, he cultivates and moulds the masses right until the last moment. If that moment is a coup d’etat against the ruling regime and the seizure of power, then those followers represent the fuel and the soldiers of that coup. If that moment is an act of voting via the ballot box, then those followers are driven to tick the box of their leaders.

Are voters so non-individualistic and dependent in their views?

More importantly, who is the voter? We are talking about Iraq since it is the country going through elections that are said to be decisive.

There is no distinctive feature of the political character of Iraqi voters. Yes there are guaranteed voting “blocs” by virtue of the dominant partisanship but there are also other voting blocs in the background. What is interesting is the sudden transformation of Arab Sunni voters from waging on the triumphant fundamentalist discourse of Harith al Dhari or any of the Sunni hawks to adopting the choice of state secularism and lining up behind the secular Shia, Iyad Allawi. This phenomenon deserves careful consideration. Did the Sunnis of Iraq suddenly discover that a non-sectarian secular regime is the best choice in a country brimming with conflicts from past centuries and sectarian outcries?

Why would secularism in the state and the nationalist logic be suitable for the Sunnis of Iraq but unsuitable for Sunnis in other Arab and Muslim countries?

Why have Iraqi Shia shifted at this particular moment from sectarian violence to potential democracy or turned into democratic beings as Iraqi writer and politician Hassan al Alawi said? Why don’t we see the same democratic spirit in them with respect to acknowledging the right of the majority to rule in Lebanon? Hezbollah and its allies were defeated in the Lebanese parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, Hezbollah considered the election results null and void and began talking about the particularities of Lebanon’s democracy based on compatibility rather than a majority vote. Contrary to that, we would find Nuri al Maliki in Iraq speaking about the necessity of acknowledging the democratic majority and majority rule.

Let us move away from the Shia circle so that people do not think, as usual, that we are trying to recommend one sect at the expense of the other.

In a televised interview I watched recently, Hassan al Alawi drew our attention to the fact that the Muslims of India, before breaking away and establishing Pakistan, were against the idea of the democratic majority in view of the predominance of Hindus over Muslims in India. That gave way to the theories of Mawdudi that denounced democracy and described it as a pre-Islamic method of ruling. He argued that governorship lies with Almighty God and not with man. The well-known Mawdudi vision was distorted and transferred to the Arab world through Sayyid Qutb. But what if Muslims had constituted a majority in India? Would they have been more enthusiastic about demanding the implementation of majority democracy?

Singing the praises of democracy in a romantic fashion and waging on its success in a decisively dogmatic way is not suitable in this part of the world, as we are still stuck in the past.

It is true that we have democracies, voting systems and regular elections, but only on the surface. There are no constitutional guarantees, nor is there a general culture that governs everyone and creates confidence through the alternation of power and the “civilianization” of the state. The principle of citizenship, as a foundation for the entire society to be based on, makes this confidence concrete, permanent and unalterable. That is why everyone deals with democracy in a cautious and opportunist way following the “hit and run” method.

Despite all of the above, what is going on in Iraq is really worth noticing. It has become apparent that it is virtually impossible for either of the competing camps (the Sunnis or the Shia) to eliminate the other. Both denominations represent the Islamic history of Iraq. Everybody should forget the fatalist allegiance to the denomination and focus on the civil nationalist affiliation instead. This seems to be the dominant atmosphere in Iraq these days.

Let us hope that Iraq will be the passage for all the people of the region to enter the world of light and social and political modernism. Who knows…light always comes from outer space.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

More Posts