Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Crisis Democracies | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Despite the qualitative disparities between the three major crises recently witnessed in the region (internal strife in Iraq, conflict between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine and internal Lebanese clashes), they all have a common fundamental point. This fundamental factor is the failure of the democratic mechanism to solve the internal political dilemma that is presented by the reality of diversity and pluralism, knowing that this mechanism was developed for managing differences and controlling diversity.

This is not to hold democracy responsible for this deadlock and tension, rather the purpose of this analysis is to demonstrate the contrary by highlighting the deficiencies in the mentioned experiences.

It is true that these three experiences suffered in their beginning and throughout time from the flaws of occupation that are already existent in Palestine, Iraq and in Lebanon (continuous Israeli aggression and undying vulnerability to external interference). However, the undeniable reality is that the three countries had witnessed the most serious experiences of democratic openness in the Arab world, even if they did fail to secure the desired price of political openness, namely, civil peace and the smooth transformation of power.

Let us start with Lebanon where the specter of civil war, from which the country was freed in the early 1990s after two decades of bloody strife, has reappeared.

While Lebanese opposition groups that are mobilized behind Hezbollah, Amal Movement and supporters of Syria staged a sit-in in front of the government headquarters, the March 14 Alliance which enjoys a parliamentary majority is clinging to the option of an international tribunal for the political assassinations that were executed in the country (Rafik al Hariri and other politicians and journalists).

Despite that the Lebanese political system is governed by a fixed democratic mechanism that is based on accurate sectarian balances; it is nevertheless periodically subjected to severe shake-ups that are usually generated by the collapse of those balances or a change to them due to external influence in most cases. It is then that the democratic mechanism fails to ensure political stability and civil peace, even if the rules of the game and the standards of fair and transparent competition were respected.

The bloody crisis had taken place in the 1990s owing to the availability of those two factors that is the collapse of sectarian balance and the introduction of the Palestinian revolution as a key player in the Lebanese arena. It was then necessary to await the Taif conference in 1989 to renew the rules of the Lebanese political game from the perspective of new internal and regional balances.

Today, signs of the crisis linger once again; different facts and figures are introduced however without invalidating the rule.

Invariably, the risks of the current crises are summarized in the new status of the Shia sect, which has caused a tangible shift on the map of internal balances as well as the repercussions of the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, which constituted an important turning point in the modern history of the country. The two factors overlap on many levels, which need no further elaboration.

The Iraqi situation entails different calculated risks and backgrounds, in spite of the obvious simplistic comparisons (Shia – Sunni conflict between the two countries). The democratic Iraqi experience is quite new, since it started with the fall of the Baathist regime and the arrival of US forces. Even though Iraq had witnessed the most transparent and fair elections in its history that had reflected the true sectarian and national balances after decades of dictatorship and marginalization of the Kurdish north and Shia south, it led to bloody sedition. The country is on the brink of disintegration and division, according to the latest report by the International Crisis Group, a fact that was further reiterated by the Baker-Hamilton report, which had caused large debate recently.

The electoral mechanism had reflected existing balances, however it did not result in democratic administration of the internal political conflict since this mechanism is only a procedural element of the democratic pattern. Such pattern requires consolidating ground that formulates national fabric for the political horizon in its plurality and variance. Without such ground, the clash moves further to the roots of the national contract itself, leading to generalized sedition and internal strife. In that case, the electoral mechanism becomes one of the tools of conflict and not a solution for it.

The Palestinian arena differs in terms of composition and calculated risks from the Lebanese and Iraqi arenas (where the sectarian factor is decisive). The dilemma remains in its same acrimony, however from another perspective which is the discrepancy in the essential strategic option concerning the state project and its connection to the equation of occupation.

The existing paradox is that the Hamas movement which rejects the principle of two states came to power through the resolution that the Oslo Accords permitted, which codified the equation of settlement with Israel. Hamas then embarked on a radical clash with the PLO that monopolizes the legitimacy of the Palestinian representation on the international level.

Thus, the fundamental discrepancy in the philosophy and vision of the Palestinian national project between the two movements had ensued in a conflict between references and legitimacies, which the electoral mechanism cannot solve.