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Fragile Units and Solid Entities - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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At the peak of the Iraqi internal crisis, many expect that Iraq would be dismantled and divide into warring sectarian cantons.

This view was based upon a number of widely apparent justifications that include the fragility of the Iraqi national fabric which lacks the national dogmatic homogeneity and the historical background. It considers that the modern Iraqi entity had emerged as a result of a state of coercive unification between dissimilar regions, which have nothing in common to unite them.

According to this scenario, Iraqi national unity was nothing but a difficult resort for the British that continued at the price of repression and oppression. It was quite natural that such unity would collapse after the demise of the Baathist regime. The new Iraqi constitution, which took shape after the occupation, had adopted this approach. Thus, it had practically legalized the separation formula while sectarian militias assumed the rest of the task through horrifying cleansing operations that were carried out to impose national and religious homogeneity.

Some may not hesitate to reiterate an idea that had long prevailed for decades in the Arab political discourse. This idea stated that the United States links its vital interests in the Middle East to a division plan that aims at dividing it and dismembering it along ethnic and sectarian lines of differentiation.

The civil war in Lebanon was regarded from the same perspective, despite the fact that sedition did not lead to the inevitable division. The central state maintained the minimum level of its institutional and symbolic efficacy even at the pinnacle of sedition.

The same scenario had taken place in Sudan which was plagued by a continuous separatist war ever since independence. This war was intervened by limited truce periods that signified the inevitable disintegration of this diverse and large country that is incapable of developing federal mechanisms that could ensure its unity.

We heard the same concerns when horrific internal conflict had broken out in Algeria in the early 1990s. We were then told that the state which was created by the resistance army lacked the sufficient requirements for its survival and that it was not founded upon a solid national legacy, thus it will be swept by civil war.

I recall that the same tone had widely spread with the outbreak of internal conflict in Yemen in 1994. At that time, I heard one of the most prominent Yemeni intellectual personalities who delivered a lecture in Beirut on generalized sedition that shall transform Yemen into a number of warring sultanates, in what would resemble scenes of a horror film.

At the same time, one of the most important Arab research centers held a session about minorities in the Arab world, which caused much uproar. The session tackled the same fears that Arab states, including the most established (such as Egypt and Morocco), would be unable to handle the reality of national and religious diversity, which would eventually lead to their disintegration and the collapse of their fragile entities.

We must clearly assert that throughout the past half century, we have not seen in any Arab or African country (it is well known that the absolute majority of African states were established consequent to colonial planning in widely diverse contexts) the collapse of new national units in spite of the worsening of factors and manifestations of conflict and crises.

This fact is attributed to many reasons, two of which include:

– The factor of historical legitimacy is not in itself a necessary condition to preserve newly emerging national entities. The majority of countries, including Western countries, lack this historical legacy and its establishment dates back to recent strategic and political conditions. However, they were able to build and develop their private national identity, which has already become a collective base of affiliation, in spite of the diversity of their national and sectarian fabric.

National identity might interweave with other types of identities that in turn can extend beyond the scope of affiliation to the political entity. However, this intertwinement does not eliminate the truth and reality of this collective national identity.

– The modern international system with its legal reference and institutional restrictions offers the necessary immunity for national entities from the perspective of sovereignty, which is the institutional standard of this regime.

There is no doubt that subjecting this principle to accountability and the overstepping of boundaries practically leads to fueling factors of conflict and discord on the wider global scale.

What we are witnessing is not a collapse of national entities that result from civil crises and conflicts, but rather a state of adaptation of these entities to these crises and conflicts. This in turn leads to the emergence of new patterns of states, the political and institutional systems of which are difficult to describe.

In the past years, we have witnessed the emergence of the “exile state” and the “satellite-channel state” at a time in which economists have crystallized notions of “economy of sedition” which has its own internal logic and competitive capacity.

This reminded me of the story of a young African sociologist who published a book in the early 1960s about the weakness and fragility of the African state. In his book, he expected an imminent collapse for the African state. When he returned to his country from exile he spent many years in prison. He then returned to exile and wrote another book in which he complained about the power of the African state, its domination and the degree of totalitarianism that it retained even during its demise.