Friday, March 29, 2013

The New "Sunni" Politics in Iraq

Finance Minister, Rafi al-Issawi, joining fellow Sunni demonstrators

Guest contributor and Iraqi scholar, Dr. Harith Qarawee, is author of Imagining the Nation: Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-Political Conflict in Iraq 
Until recently, few Iraqis identified themselves in sectarian terms. This was particularly true of the Arab Sunni population. Even though sectarianism has always been a powerful force in Iraqi society and politics, it has never been as explicit and public as it is today.  Sectarian identities and discourses are used by political entrepreneurs to achieve political goals. Although cultural symbolism and collective narratives are functional in this process, the real objectives are mainly political and largely instrumental.

The Process of Sunnification 
The so-called “Sunni” rule of Iraq before 2003 was not Sunni in the sense that the ruling elite’s ideology was based on a form of Sunni versus Shi’i solidarity.

This simplistic view of Iraqi society led some to create a narrative of Iraqi history as one of permanent “sectarian” conflict.  In fact, the national ideology that ruled Iraq was based on the centrality of ‘Pan-Arabism’, which legitimated or justified an exclusionary power structure in which people from Arab Sunni areas, the majority of whom were not religious, had controlled its core. 

“Sectarian” exclusion was coincidental to a system built on networks of clientalism whose criteria of loyalty were derived from kinship and tribal-regional links. As those who belong to Arab Sunni tribal-regional congregations were give preferential treatment by the state, the consequence was that the subsequent former regimes were seen as Sunni ones.

Although the Ba’th Party’s ideology was more Sunni than Shi’a, it was originally articulated to emphasize a cross-sectarian and cross-religious Arab unity.  This is proven by the fact that millions of Shi’a were members of Ba’th party (whose Iraqi branch was founded and initially led by Fu’ad al-Rikabi, a Shi’i from the southern city of al-Nasiriya).

Iraq’s Arab Sunni community has been subject to strong dynamics of “Sunnification.”   This process has resulted from a deep sense of alienation in post-Saddam Iraq and has also been inspired by the uprising in neighboring Syria.  Sunni leaders and protesters appear to be less reserved today when they speak about their sectarian community.  

Sectarian symbolism is present in the ongoing protests in Anbar, Mosul, and other Arab Sunni cities. Flags of the “Sunni” free Syrian army, mottos attacking the Iranian “occupation” of Iraq,  and slogans denouncing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, imply that Iraqi Sunni protesters share with their Sunni Syrian counterparts a “common cause” in the struggle against two “Shi’i” pro-Iranian governments.  

Certainly, there are some similarities with what transpired after 2003 when clerics of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), led by Shaykh Harith al-Dhari, played the role of the defender of the Arab Sunni community. However, there are also significant differences between the two situations.
In contrast to the current dynamic, the AMS was not an outcome of a large-scale and public socio-political mobilization.  Its main concern was to oppose and de-legitimize foreign occupation of Iraq by the United States. Today, that foreign occupation is over and many Iraqi Sunnis seem to think that the United States should play a role in exerting pressure on the Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad.
In a letter addressed to President Obama, an increasingly popular cleric, ‘Abd al-Malik al-Sa’di, claimed that the United States has a moral obligation to save the country and to “reform what was corrupted by the wrong decision of invading Iraq in 2003”. 
Some Sunni politicians have started to speak publicly about Baghdad as a Sunni city, and some protesters have tried to symbolize that through calls to “march on Baghdad”.  Speaker of Parliament, Usama al-Nujayfi, told al-Jazeera television in an interview that the Sunni population constitutes the majority in Iraq, denying the Shi’a’s “claims” to be the majority.
Sunni politicians who are perceived to be less committed to the “communal cause,” such as Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq, face rejection and accusations of treason.  Last December, he was turned away by protesters in Falluja when he was tried to join them.
Mutlaq has been a fierce critic of Maliki, but his non-sectarian approach and recent efforts at compromise did not help him make  inroads among the young, angry demonstrators who feel no sympathy with politicians who have one foot in the government and the other one in the opposition.   
Like most youth movements, there is a tendency for a sort of puritanism that the current political class fails to provide.  In this context, the kind of speakers or leaders who are more likely to become popular are those whose representation of communal feelings has not been contaminated by the daily politics of one of the most corrupt political classes in the world. But with puritanism often comes “radicalization.” 
More Arab or More Sunni
This mobilization process is a show of strength that is building a Sunni political agenda and a new communal discourse.   Electorally, it can help producing a stronger leadership with broader communal legitimacy that could claim better position in any future negotiation with Shi’a and Kurdish leaders.
When the new Iraqi constitution was written in 2004 and 2005, Sunni areas were isolated by the uprising and Sunni representatives in the constitutional committee lacked a real constituency.  Consequently, the new political system was mainly a product of the Shi’a-Kurdish alliance at the time.
Many Sunni leaders seem to have accepted sectarian categorization and have even called for including sectarian identity in any future census, as did Nujayfi. Those who argue that there is a Sunni majority in Iraq tend to include Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen in their calculation, but ethnic differences might prove to be more powerful than any confessionally-based solidarity.  
Both the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and the President of Kurdistan Region Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, sought to take advantage of the absence of a united and powerful Arab Sunni leadership in order to promote their political agendas. When the Shi’a-Kurdish alliance began to disintegrate as a result of the tension between Maliki’s tendency to consolidate power and Barzani’s tendency to emphasize the independence of his semi-autonomous region, Sunni Arabs became a target for their competition.
Maliki formed a new regional military command in the ethnically-mixed disputed areas along the “Green Line,” which separates Kurdish and Arab areas.  He based his appeal to the Sunni Arab population living in those areas as an Arab leader who was willing to stop Kurdish encroachment on Arab land.  
For his part, Barzani expressed his support for the “legitimate” demands by Sunni leaders and protesters, and on several occasions stressed that Kurds and Sunni Arab share a common cause against the increasing authoritarianism of the Prime Minister. While Maliki was trying to revive Arab solidarity under his leadership, regional Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar were urging the Kurds (who are predominantly Sunni Muslim), and the Sunni Arabs to join forces against the Shi’a-dominated government.
In fact, Sunni Arabs in Iraq were exposed to two conflicting forces that sought to separate their “Arabism” from their “Sunnism.” However, the current dynamic appears to affirm their “distinctiveness” from the co-ethnic Shi’as and co-sectarian Kurds.
Anti-Maliki slogans have escalated to a point where it is highly unlikely that he will win over any serious portion of the Sunni constituency.  In fact, “anti-Malikism” has become a significant element in shaping current Sunni Arab discourse.
At the same time, the continuing dispute over land and the legacy of mutual suspicions will make any potential alliance with the Kurds a tactical one (as was the case with the Shi’a-Kurdish alliance which was undermined despite the absence of any legacy of hostility). There is a simple fact about identity politics in Iraq and, perhaps, elsewhere: they are basically instruments used by political actors as they engage in the more fundamental conflict over power, status, and economic resources.  
What Next?
Sectarian mobilization is used by Sunni political, religious and tribal leaders to revive their support base and prevent Maliki from making inroads among their constituencies.  Similarly, Maliki is his confrontation with the Sunnis and Kurds has attempted to appear as a strong Shi’i leader who is defending Shi’a community and the ‘rule of majority’ which is targeted by regional Sunni powers and their ‘local’ proxies. With the deepening sectarian divide, the previously rejected idea of turning Iraq into a confederation of three ethno-sectarian groups seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, the future scenario might prove to be gloomier if the confrontation turns into a new civil war.
However, exploiting ethnic and sectarian identities by political entrepreneurs is a way to manage the conflict over power and resources. To a large extent, this conflict in Iraq is taking place between centripetal and centrifugal forces. On the discursive level, the conflict is manifested through the clash between Maliki’s emphasis on state-building and rule of law and his opponents’ complaints about authoritarian and exclusionary policies. In fact, this reflects a substantial dilemma Iraq has always faced: how to consolidate state’s power without excluding disloyal social forces?.
Maliki’s actions appear to be confusing the state’s authority with government’s power, and governmental structure with his own personal authority.  His project of state-building is one based on maximizing his authority and monopolizing “legitimate” violence without creating the proper conditions to legitimize his authority. However, state-building is also about creating effective frameworks that persuasively organize state-society relationship and promote the necessary sense of political inclusion.
The political process in Iraq has been constructed on a conceptually confusing formula.  While the constitution mentions concepts like the “Iraqi Nation” and “Iraqi people,” there has been an increasing  emphasis on seeing Iraqi society as one composed of ethnic, religious and sectarian components.  This process has created greater confusion about where this political process is supposed to lead: more political and social integration or more disintegration.  In practice, the overarching political process seems to have lacked a clear vision, consequently paving the way for the current conflict.
The Sunni Arab leaders were historically in favor of the central rule when the government was controlled by them. Even after 2003, the ideas of decentralization and federalism were not appealing to them because of the then undisputed influence of the skeptical attitude which viewed as illegitimate the political process generated by the invasion.
Today, this attitude seems to be changing. Maliki and his Shi’i allies have strengthened their control over central government’s bodies. They led a massive process of sectarian replacement inside those bodies, through de-Ba’thification and clientalism, leaving Sunni Arabs with a feeling of being excluded and targeted. There is no way to know if state’s jobs are proportionally distributed between the two communities, but the Sunni feeling of alienation is unquestionable.
It is these feelings of marginalization and alienation that have made it easier for the current mobilization to begin, intensified, of course, by the Arab spring. The comparison with Syria is inescapable as both the Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad and the protesters in the Sunni Arab heartland look to Syria as an extension of their own conflict.
But this analogy can lead to miscalculations and illusions about the intentions and capabilities of the contending parties.  The two conflicts are interconnected but they are not identical.  The Alawite-dominated regime of Bashar al-Asad is facing a Sunni-dominated uprising in a country where Sunni Arabs constitute the demographic majority (approximately 70%).
This is not the case with Sunni Arabs in Iraq who constitute an estimated 15 to 20% of the population.  A violent confrontation between Sunni groups and the Iraqi government would be very destructive, and only lead to more sectarianism and, probably, de facto partition of the country.
To avoid that scenario, the Iraqi government needs to give moderate forces more incentives to face radicalization.  This might not be a policy that Maliki would to pursue if he perceives that posturing as the “Strong Shi’i” is the only way in which to appeal to his electoral constituency.  
Nevertheless, as a rational leader, Maliki realizes that avoiding civil war must be a priority. If mainstream Sunni leaders and popular clerics manage to find a formula that can mobilize moderate elements while simultaneously isolating radicals, there will be better opportunity to negotiate a new pact between center and periphery after the next general election in 2014.
What Iraq needs is a clear vision and a formula that would solve the conceptual confusion about the relationship between the nation-state’s identity and those of its sub-national communities.  As much as the increasing sectarianism has jeopardized the very existence of this national community, it might present the last opportunity to re-think the basis on which Iraqi state should be constructed.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Ten Years after the American Invasion of Iraq

Guest contributor, Dr. Abdelhamid al-Siyam, former assistant to Special UN Envoy to Iraq, Sergio Viera de Mello, and director of Arab Media at the United Nations, teaches political science and Middle East studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. The interview below, "Iraq has transitioned from the tyranny of dictatorship to divisive sectarianism," was given to the Tunisian newspaper, al-Sabah, on March 20, 2013.

الخبير الاممي د.عبد الحميد صيام لـ«الصباح»: العراق انتقل من ظلم الدكتاتورية إلى الطائفية البغيضة

عشر سنوات تمضي اليوم على الاجتياح الأمريكي العراقي بدعوى انقاذ العالم من مخاطر سلاح الدمار الشامل الذي يهدد الامن والسلم الدولي... عشر سنوات عاش خلالها العراق حملة تدمير شامل استهدفت المجتمع العراقي وأوقعته في شرك الفتنة ودفعت به الى هاوية الحرب الطائفية والاقتتال الذي أغرق شوارع العراق في دماء العراقيين.

كل ذلك طبعا الى جانب حملة موازية لا تقل أهمية عن الأولى استهدفت ثروات العراق و كنوزه التاريخية والحضارية، وكما استنزفت ذاكرته الوطنية وتطاولت على متاحفه وآثاره مكتباته وجامعاته، فقد امتدت الى علمائه وباحثيه ومفكريه وشعرائه وفلاسفته فكانت حملة لالغاء الهوية العراقية واستبدالها بأخرى مسقطة غريبة عن بلاد الرافدين...

بعد مضي عشر سنوات وفي أعقاب واحدة من أبشع حروب العصر التي تابع العالم تطوراتها يوما بيوم عبر الفضائيات لا يزال العراق يعيش على وقع التفجيرات اليومية عنوان الفوضى الخلاقة التي أراد لها مهندسو الشرق الأوسط الجديد أن تكون العراق مختبرا لها. وبدل الديموقراطية والحرية التي تطلع اليها العراقيون، يستفيق شعب العراق اليوم وبعد قرارالجيش الأمريكي بالانسحاب على الواقع الجديد بين مخاطر التقسيم والتفكيك ومخاطر التأثير الإيراني بعد أن تحول بلد الرافدين الى مأى لتنظيم القاعدة وللحركات المسلحة التي تمتد عبر المنطقة...

أكثر من سبب من شأنه اليوم أن يدفع الى التوقف في هذه الذكرى العاشرة لاجتياح العراق لتأمل المشهد الراهن وتداعياته على المنطقة... رحل صدام وقتل أبناؤه وانهار جيشه ووقع اجتثاث «البعث»، مشهد قد لا يختلف كثيرا عما حدث قبل سنتين في ليبيا فللبلدين ثروات نفطية ومعدنية مغرية...

ومع ذلك لا أحد اليوم بإمكانه أن يعرف عدد الضحايا الذين سقطوا في الحرب على العراق و لا أحد أيضا بامكانه اليوم أن يجزم بأن محاكمة من تورطوا في جريمة الحرب على العراق سيمثلون يوما أمام العدالة الدولية ليحاسبوا على ما اقترفوه ولكن ما يمكن تأكيده في المقابل في هذه الذكرى أن الدم العراقي و الدم العربي وحده الذي يسيل من ليبيا الى سوريا الى العراق و فلسطين بعد أن هان على أصحابه وبعد أن استهان به الآخرون...

عشر سنوات على الحرب المدمرة في العراق وما خلفته من خراب و دمار من شأنها أن تدعو أكثر من وقت مضى الى تأمل المشهد العراقي و تداعياته فعسى أن يكون في هذه الذكرى ما يمكن أن يعيد الوعي الغائب عن الحكام الجدد أو يحي ضمائرهم المخدرة ويخلص عقولهم المجمدة من عقدها ومكبلاتها ويدعو الى استعادة العراق الى الساحة العربية والى اعتاق الشعوب العربية من قبضات المخططات الضيقة للمسؤولين المتدثرين بالدين لتحقيق أهدافعم الظلامية...

عشر سنوات على اجتياح العراق تعني أن من ولدوا في تلك السنة بلغوا العاشرة من العمر و لم يعرفوا غير الاحتلال وأما الذين كان سنهم في العاشرة آنذاك فقد أصبحوا شبابا ليس في ذاكرتهم غير الماسي و الدمار...
عشر سنوات على اجتياح العراق محطة نتوقف عندها بكثير من الألم لاستقراء المستقبل بحثا عن أمل و حلم يرفض أن يتحقق...
من المهازل المسجلة في الذكرى العاشرة لاجتياع العراق أن يصبح بلاد الرافدين اليوم في المرتبة 176 من مجموع الدول الأكثر فسادا في العالم....

عشر سنوات على اجتياح العراق كانت فرصة التقينا خلالها مع الخبير الأممي السابق عبد الحميد صيام أستاذ دراسات الشرق الأوسط و العلوم السياسية بجامعة تغرز بنيوجرزي. وفي ما يلي نص الحديث .

* عشر سنوات على اجتياح العراق.. عقد كامل يمضي وجيل يسحق، فكيف يبدو المشهد اليوم في بلاد الرافدين؟ وهل ما زالت أحلام الديموقراطية قائمة؟
- تستحق الذكرى العاشرة للاحتلال الأمريكي للعراق وقفة متأنية نراجع فيها نتائج تلك الحرب وأوضاع الأطراف المعنية فيها وخاصة الدولة العراقية والقوى المتحكمة فيها من جهة والولايات المتحدة وآثار تلك الحرب العسكرية والاقتصادية والسياسية والنفسية التي لحقت بالدولة العظمى من خلال احتلالها لبلد كبير بحجم العراق لمدة تسع سنوات.

بالنسبة للولايات المتحدة فقد كان احتلال العراق غير قانوني وغير مبرر أخلاقيا أو سياسيا أو قانونيا. قد تكون حرب العراق الحرب الوحيدة التي شنت على بلد مستقل ذو سيادة بناء على حجج غير مثبتة ومبررات غير منطقية وبدون سند قانوني أو شرعية من مجلس الأمن الدولي. وقد كلفت هذه الحرب الولايات المتحدة نحو 4,500 قتيل وأكثر من 32,000 جريح بتكاليف زادت عن الثمان مائة مليار دولار مما سبب ما يشبه الانهيار الاقتصادي للبلاد في الأيام الأخيرة لعهد الرئيس السابق جورج بوش. لقد خرجت أمريكا من هذه الحرب التي تعد من أطول حروبها (الثانية بعد حرب أفغانستان) مهزومة سياسيا وأخلاقيا ونفسيا. أصبح العراق الآن شبه مقسم طائفيا، ومرتعا وملاذا آمنا للجماعات المتطرفة من أنصار القاعدة وأخواتها ثم خضع العراق الآن للنفوذ الإيراني شبه المطلق. فماذا جنت الولايات المتحدة من هذه الحرب الظالمة إلا الهزائم؟

 بالنسبة للعراق فقد انتقل من مرحلة الدكتاتورية الكاسرة الظالمة إلى مرحلة الطائفية الكريهة. لقد تمزق الوطن واستبدل بالأقلمة الطائفية. إستبدل الانتماء إلى الوطن بالانتماء للطائفة. فقد العراق مئات الألوف من شبابه وشيبه ونسائه ورجاله وأطفاله لتستكمل الحرب الظالمة آثار13 سنة من الحصار القاتل الذي دفع الشعب العراقي بمجمله ثمنا باهظا لا يمكن تعويضه. لقد فكك الاحتلال كافة الأبواب والحواجز الأمنية عن هذا البلد الكبير وتحول إلى معازل طائفية ومناطق نفوذ وأرض خصبة للسيارات المفخخة والاغتيالات والتهجير والفساد غير المسبوق. لقد تغول التطرف الديني والتطرف الطائفي والتطرف العرقي حتى بدا العراق وكأنه قطع موزاييك صفت إلى جانب بعضها لا يربطها رابط، وقد تتفتت مع أول هزة كبرى فتتجه كل قطعة في اتجاه.

العراق يحتل الآن المرتبة 176 من مجموع 179 دولة على سلم الفساد حسب مؤشرات منظمة الشفافية الدولية، ولم يتفوق إلا على أفغانستان وميانمار والصومال. كما تفاقمت نسبة وفيات الأطفال خلال الحصار وسنوات الاحتلال لتصل المرتبة ما قبل الأخيرة متفوقة على النيجر فقط. الغول الطائفي ما زال هائجا حتى كادت البلاد تخلو من سكانها المسيحيين بعد أن كان عددهم نحو مليون نسمة. في العراق يرفع الآن أكثر من علم ويتلى أكثر من نشيد وطني وتتنازع الأطراف على هوية المدن وعلى عوائد النفط وعلى المناصب وعلى الاستقواء بالخارج وعلى الاصطفاف مع من يحاولون سلخ العراق عن هويته العربية الأصيلة.
ديموقراطية «الدبابة الأمريكية»

* وأين مشروع الديموقراطية الذي جاء على ظهر الدبابة الامريكية؟
- الديمقراطية في العراق تتعلق بالشكل أكثر من المضمون. فالذهاب إلى صندوق الانتخابات لا يعني دخول البلاد مرحلة الاستقرار الديمقراطي. فالديمقراطية مضمون وانتماء وممارسة ومواطنة متساوية وشفافية ومجتمع مدني وسيادة القانون واختفاء المليشيات المسلحة واحترام نتائج الانتخابات ضمن التعددية السياسية والاحتكام للدستور وقيام البرلمان المنتخب بدوره التشريعي وخاصة مراقبة السلطة التنفيذية. معظم هذه الشروط غير متوفر. لقد أصبح بعض المسؤولين المنتخبين غير آمنين على أنفسهم وعائلاتهم بسبب الاستفراد الأرعن للسلطة. لقد تحول الحاكم الحالي للعراق أقرب إلى الدكتاتور منه إلى الرئيس المنتخب المنضبط للقانون. 

لقد أساء للبلاد والعباد ووسع دائرة الأعداء وضيق دوائر الحلفاء. حتى من حالفهم بالأمس أصبحوا أعداء اليوم. وما هذا الحراك الشعبي الهادر في كثير من المحافظات وخاصة في الأنبار ونينوى وصلاح الدين إلا شاهدا على التململ الجماهيري العارم ضد الطاغية رغم أنه منتخب. لكنه ما زال مصرا على صم أذنيه عن نداءات الملايين التي تطالب بالإصلاح والمواطنة المتساوية وعدالة توزيع الموارد وتبييض السجون من سجناء الرأي والموقف وخاصة من النساء، لكنه ما زال يستخدم اليد الحديدية في الرد على المظاهرات وإطلاق النار على المتظاهرين وزج المزيد من شباب وقيادات الحراك في السجون. فهل هو حقا حريص على العراق ووحدته وسيادته ونهضته؟

دور ونفوذ إيران
* وما حقيقة ما يروج عن الدور الإيراني في هذا البلد وأن أمريكا قدمت العراق هدية سائغة لإيران؟
- العراق أصبح منطقة نفوذ لإيران ومعبرا لأسلحتها لنظام بشار الأسد الذي يشن حرب إبادة على الشعب السوري. المخابرات الإيرانية تتحكم الآن في الداخل العراقي. تقتل من تشاء وتخطف من تشاء وتفرض أجنداتها كما تشاء. لقد قدمت الولايات المتحدة العراق هدية لأيران وحولته إلى ورقة مساومة في صراعها مع الدول الغربية حول برنامجها النووي. لقد كانت تلك الحرب مغامرة غبية من اليمين الأمريكي المتطرف والمحافظين الجدد الذين لا يعرفون شيئا عن العراق وكل ما في أذهانهم الانتقام لضحايا الحادي عشر من سبتمبر (2001) وضمان أمن إسرائيل وضمان تدفق النفط وأعتقد أنهم فشلوا في كل ما خططوا له. صحيح نجحوا في تفتيت العراق وإيقاظ الغول الطائفي، لكن الحقيقة تبقى أن رياح الاحتلال الأمريكي جرت تماما كما تشتهي سفن إيران.

المنطقة العربية كلها تعيش مرحلة مخاض عسير. النظم الدكتاتورية تتهاوى شيئا فشيئا لأنها لم تعد تناسب العصر وغير قادرة على إحتواء ثورة الأجيال الجديدة. لكن البديل لها إما الحركات الإسلامية أو الفوضى. وهما خياران أحلاهما مر. فالجماعات الإسلامية ليس لديها مشروع وطني إقتصادي نهضوي وتحاول الاستفراد بالحكم أما الفوضى فسببها محاولة الدكتاتور اليائسة بالتشبث بالحكم حتى ولو كان على حساب الملايين من أبناء الشعب. نحن نعيش مرحلة خطيرة : القديم لم يمت تماما والجديد لم يولد بعد. وقد استغلت القوى الأجنبية المعادية للأمة هذا الوضع الخطير ودفعت بعملائها ومخبريها وجماعاتها لتخريب الثورات الشريفة وتأجيج الطائفية والمبالغة في خطر الجماعات المتطرفة لتبرير المواقف المتناقضة والمتخاذلة. إن ما يجري في سوريا الآن هو صدام دموي بين إرادتين/ إرادة الشعب العريق والحر الباحث عن الحرية والكرامة وإرادة الدكتاتور المتشبث بالسلطة حتى لو أفنى الشعب كله. وما بينهما عناصر هجينة دخلت على الخط ليس لها علاقة لا بسوربا ولا بهمومها ولا بمعاناتها.

ربيع العرب
* وماذا عن الربيع العراقي وموقعه من الربيع العربي؟
وأخيرا ونحن بانتظار انقشاع الظلام واستقرار الأمواج المتلاطمة وسماع صرخات المخاض بانتظار المولود الجديد سنبقى نضع أيدينا على قلوبنا ربما سنة أو سنتين أو خمسة- لا نعرف- خوفا على العراق من خطر التفتيت وعلى سوريا من خطر الحرب الأهلية التي لا تبقي ولا تذر وخطر فشل التجربتين الرائدتين التونسية والمصرية وخطر تحول اليمن إلى دولة فاشلة، وخطر اندثار القضية الفلسطينية وتغول القوة الإسرائيلية. لكننا واثقون كما قال إبن النحوي من مدينة توزر بالجنوب التونسي قبل ألف سنة: «إشتدي أزمة تنفرجي- قد قارب ليلك بالبلج».

 حوار: آسيا العتروس

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Iraq: 10 Years after the invasion

Mass grave discovered south of Baghdad May 27,2003
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, many would argue that the country is in no better condition than it was in 2003,and indeed maybe worse.  Is this in fact the case?  Would it have been preferable for Saddam Husayn's Ba'thist regime to remain in power?  More to the point, why has Iraq not made more progress towards establishing a democratic and stable political system over the last 10 years?

Answering the question of whether it would have been better had Saddam Husayn not been removed from power cannot be boiled down to a simple yes or no.  To fully answer this question requires assessing the the US role in Iraq in 2003 and after, as well as Saddam's policies.

Saddam Husayn was guilty of massive human rights violations.  Overwhelming evidence for his genocidal policies was already in the hands of the international community when over 20 tons of state documents were obtained after Iraq was defeated in the January 1991 Gulf War.

These myriad documents indicated that Saddam had authorized a wide variety of policies designed to eliminate actual and suspected political opponents.  The documents provided evidence for the atrocities of his infamous Anfal campaign during the mid-1980s which destroyed 175 Kurdish villages and led to the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.  Other documents showed Saddam's brutal methods of suppressing the February-March 1991 uprising (Intifada) in southern Iraq.

How anyone can argue that it would have been better to leave in power a ruler who led his country into two disastrous wars, killed between 2-3 million Iraqis during Ba'thist rule between 1968 and 2003 (10-15% of the population), and imposed extensive psychological trauma on Iraqi adults and especially children, from which many will suffer from for the rest of their lives, is incomprehensible.

The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, which Saddam began, led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and cost an estimated $600 billion dollars.  The 1991 Gulf War led to Iraq's industry and national infrastructure being bombed back to levels of the 1940s.   While the Iraqi government admitted killing 300,000 Iraqis during the March 1991 Intifada, the total was no doubt much higher.  The UN sanctions regime of the 1990s - a result of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program - decimated the middle and professional classes, forced the poor to turn to criminal activity in the face of a collapsed economy, and deprived an entire generation of Iraqi children of their education as the national education system shut down.

Women, who had gained rights during the 1970s and 1980s, lost those rights as Saddam sought to gain the support of Iraqi males when his regime was weakened after the Gulf War uprising.  Forced to leave their jobs, and having no access to education, Iraqi women were in an extremely difficult position when the US invaded in 2003 and have still not been able to gain the status they once enjoyed prior to the Iran-Iraq War.

At the same time, the US's unilateralism in invading Iraq in March 2003 was a violation of international norms.  If the US had been serious about removing Saddam from power, it would have allowed the Iraqi Intifada to overthrow Saddam's regime in the spring of 1991.  Instead, the US allowed Iraqi helicoptor gunships to take to the air which turned the tide of the conflict, ordered American troops to destroy weapons depots so that they would not fall into insurgent hands, and forbade US troops on Iraqi soil from intervening in the uprising.  Just think how much blood, toil and human sacrifice could have been avoided had Saddam been ousted by his own people in 1991.

The Bush administration should have used international law to remove Saddam from power which would have been totally appropriate given his huge massive rights violations directed against his own citizenry. Saddam and his henchmen could have been tried in absentia and, if found guilty, forcibly brought to trial  by the same type of military coalition that the US helped organize under UN auspices in the fall of 1990 to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.  An international policy, such as that which brought Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic to trial in an international court, would have been the proper course for bringing Saddam to justice.

The Bush administration's ordering of the dissolution of the Iraqi conscript army and firing of the national police in May 2003 was a major blunder.  The 385,000 man army was comprised of an ethnically integrated officer coprs.  Both officers and conscripts disliked if not hated Saddam's regime for its poor treatment of the conscript army, including sub-standard weaponry and intermittent pay, and for it having been left to be carpet bombed in Kuwait during the January 1991 military campaign.  While the conscript army was being bombed in Kuwait, Saddam's elite Republican Guard units had been withdrawn into Iraq to protect Saddam from a potential uprising.

While it was necessary to dissolve the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units in 2003, since they were loyal to Saddam and his regime, had the US left the conscript army intact, it could have played a salutary role in suppressing the Ba'thist inspired insurgency - one that quickly attracted radical Islamists as well - that began in the fall of 2003.  By firing members of the conscript army, the US provided the insurgency with added forces since the Ba'th had not only buried weapons but money which many former conscript army members now needed to feed their families.

The Bush administration's de-Ba'thification policy was likewise self- destructive.  Under Saddam's regime, anyone who wanted a government or public sector job, e.g., university professors, was required to join the Ba'th Party (similar to what was required under Nazi rule in Germany).  The failure to differentiate between committed and nominal Ba'thists by mass firings of party members deprived Iraq of needed professional and technical expertise as Iraq began a process of reconstruction following the ouster of the ancien regime.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which which governed Iraq from May 2003 though June 2004, created the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), the first government explicitly organized along sectarian lines since the founding of the Iraqi state in August 1921.  The formation of the IGC sent a message to Iraqis that sectarian criteria constituted the new organizing principle for Iraqi politics.

Bringing a large number of Iraqi expatriates with the American invasion force in 2003 turned Iraqi politics over to politicians who had personal rather than civic agendas and often sought to enact revenge for having been forced to leave Iraq during Ba'thist rule.  These included 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Nuri al-Maliki, a leader of the Islamic Call Party (hizb al-da'wa al-islamiya), and Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Conference (al-mu'tamar al-watani al-'Iraqi), none of whom have worked to establish democratic governance and promote national reconciliation.

While the US government began giving subsidies to American farmers in the 1920s, the CPA eliminated government subsidies to Iraqi agriculture in August 2003, disingenuously arguing that the state have no right to use public funds to subsidize farmers.  With Iraqi fruits and vegetables even less competitive than before with those imported from Iran and Syria, many more (young) farmers migrated to urban areas where they joined sectarian militias and criminal organizations hostile to the United States.

Under the direction of General David Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the Bush administration changed course in Iraq in 2006.  In conjunction with the 2006 "Surge," which sent 30,000 additional troops to Iraq who were embedded in neighborhoods threatened by sectarian violence, the security situation began to improve.

One key variable in improving the security situation was a new policy of listening and respecting Iraqis and letting them define the reconstruction agenda.  The development of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which provided technical personnel to help Iraqis to achieve goals that they set, rather than those set by Americans, changed the perception of many Iraqis that the US was an arrogant power that sought to force its policies on Iraq.  As Iraqis felt more respected by Americans, relations with the US improved substantially.

The Obama administration comes in for its own share of criticism.  Rather than holding then Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to his own promises to implement democratic reforms if he won the March 2010 national parliament elections, the US has done little to counter the increasingly authoritarian polices that Maliki has followed since retaining his position as prime minister after the elections.

The outcome of the US' failure to pressure Maliki in 2010 to "walk the walk," and not just "talk the talk," is evidence that US still has not learned that support for authoritarian rulers is not only bad for local populaces but a policy that consistently comes back to bite the US.  If the US hasn't learned by now from its experiences with the Shah of Iran, Egypt's Husni Mubarak, Tunisia's Zin al-Din bin Ali, and Yemen's Ali Abdallah Salih, just to name a few bad "political investments," then it has no one  to blame but itself for the continued failure of its foreign policy in the Middle East.

Worse still, the US did little when Maliki tried to circumvent the Iraqi constitution after the March 2010 elections.  Because the al-Iraqiya Coalition headed by Ayad Allawi received more votes and thus seats than Maliki's State of Law Coalition (91 to 89), Allawi should had been given the first opportunity to form a new government. 

Instead of supporting the constitution, which would have sent a positive message to the Iraqi people about playing according to democratic rules, the US tried to have Alawi assume a role as head of a new national security council which it proposed and which Maliki agreed to form if he could continue as prime minister.  It was not much of a surprise when Maliki subsequently reneged on his promise to the US and al-Iraqiya by refusing to give the new security council  any power.

While Allawi would not have necessarily been a less corrupt prime minister, as head of a multi-ethic coalition which attracted the votes of Arab Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites, his government would have not have been as sectarian as Maliki's has proved to be.  Since March 2010, Maliki has taken control of Iraq's Independent Higher Election Commission, and its Central Bank, and has intimidated judges to force them to adjudicate legal matters in ways that support his interests.  Maliki has also attacked many prominent Arab Sunni politicians which has angered Iraq's Sunnis who feel he is trying to marginalize them.  He has appointed military and intelligence service commanders who are loyal to him.

It is interesting to note that it was the heads of Iraq's two major religious communities - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, head of Iraq's Shiites, and Ahmad 'Abd al-Ghaffar al-Samara'i, head of Iraq's Arab Sunni community - not the US, that forced Maliki not to postpone the March 2010 elections.  Maliki sought a postponement so he could improve his position in the polls.

The two religious leaders also forced Maliki to use an open rather than a closed list ballot system.  Because Iraq's constitution requires that 25% of parliamentary seats go to women, a closed list system would have allowed political parties to put up women candidates who were under the thumb of the male heads of these parties, such as their wives, daughters, sisters and other women who would follow party dictates.  Instead, a number of strong and independent women won seats in Iraq's parliament.

Maliki's authoritarian and increasingly sectarian policies have led to a national outcry, not just among Iraq's Sunni population but among Shiites as well.  One of the most vocal opponents of Maliki's policies is the Shiite Sadrist Trend, led by the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which holds 40 seats in parliament.  The Shiite Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Badr Organization, two other powerful Shiite parties, likewise oppose Maliki.  The three main Kurdish parties oppose Maliki's policies as well.

All these parties are trying to depose Maliki through a parliamentary vote of no confidence and recently organized a successful vote in parliament to impose term limits so Maliki cannot run for office again in 2014.  Because Maliki controls Iraq's Supreme Court, the parliamentary vote on term limits will undoubtedly be declared unconstitutional. 

It would be totally unwarranted to assign all the blame to the United States for the political instability and sectarian tensions that are currently bedeviling  Iraq.  In my forthcoming, Taking Democracy Seriously in Iraq, I analyze extensively the domestic problems facing a transition to democracy in Iraq, along with negative "neighborhood effects,"particularly Iran's meddling in Iraq's internal affairs.  Clearly, much of what ails Iraq today was not caused by the United States.

Nevertheless, when Americans pick up a newspaper, journal or turn on the television and come face to face with the spread of violence and political tensions in Iraq, they should resist the temptation to sit back and opine that the Iraqis are an unstable people who do not know how to run their political affairs, let alone establish a democratic form of government.  Instead, Americans would do well to look in the mirror to learn the sources of many of the problems that face Iraq today.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Making Sense of the Arab Spring: Conducting Research on the Egyptian Uprising

Guest contibutor, Kira Jumet, a doctoral candidate in the Political Science Department, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, who recently returned from conducting research in Egypt, shares her analysis of its Arab Spring uprising.

It has been a little more than two years since the beginning of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. As anyone who reads the news can tell, the Revolution continues. From the early stages of the uprising, scholars began to write pieces on the causes of the anti-regime protests, initially writing from their office desks far away from the action, and later taking summer research trips to interview people on the ground. 

Now that we have moved beyond the “what just happened” phase, there are a number of considerations that those wishing to study the 2011 Egyptian Revolution should keep in mind. After just returning from seven months in Egypt, where I conducted preliminary interviews and research for my project, I hope my insights can be helpful to others going into the field to do their own research.  Following are seven considerations for researching in Egypt.

First, Location is important: It is important for researchers to note the potential variations in motivations, protester populations, and mobilization tactics in different Egyptian cities. Cairo was not the only place that held protests on January 25, 2011. In addition to the more well-known cities of Alexandria and Suez, there were also protests in Mansura, Tanta, Aswan, Asyut and a number of other towns after the 25th, protests spread nationwide. 

Cairo is the most easily accessible city, particularly given the escalating violence in places such as Port Said and Ismailia,  Despite being the capital and Egypt's largest city, Cairo did not a revolution make. Thus, claims about the revolution as a whole, without conducting research in other cities, may be overstated. With the little information on other regions reported in international newspapers and the virtual absence of academic publications on the political history of many of these cities, I urge researchers to move beyond Cairo to include other locations in their studies. Such information is greatly needed.

Second, Variables: The grievances listed repeatedly as the cause of the Revolution include: low wages, high food prices, unemployment, corruption, police brutality, the emergency laws, electoral fraud, and lack of various freedoms. While I do not dispute that these were the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, they did not all carry the same causal weight. 

The aim of research is to determine which of these grievances were most important. Did different social classes have different complaints? Were some of these variables more important in one city than in another? If we are to uncover potential tipping points, we must examine which grievances were most important at that time and whether they varied between and even within cities. 

Third, Causal Mechanisms: The variables that were just listed, and they most definitely do not encompass all the variables to be examined, do not cause a revolution. High food prices, unemployment, and police brutality are an unfortunate reality in many societies that have not revolted against their regimes. Only through on the ground extensive interviewing can we determine the causal mechanisms that lead grievances to become transformed into public protest. 

In Eva Bellin’s “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East,” she provides a helpful start by identifying emotional triggers, such as anger, fear, and euphoria. Let Bellin’s work serve as a starting point for further exploration, possibly through process tracing, of the causal mechanisms that led so many Egyptians to protest in the streets.
Fourth, Social Class: While many associate the examination of social class in a revolutionary context with a Marxist approach, there are in fact many ways to look at class in the Revolution. Through my preliminary research, I have identified a number of issues pertaining to class that warrant further examination. 

All members of the middle class that I interviewed, both young and old, who protested on January 25th, learned about the protests from social media. Thus, for those studying social media and the revolution, class should not be viewed simply as an issue of the digital divide, where some will have greater access to the Internet than others. Initial calls for protest occurred online and the early spreading of information about the protests occurred online. 

Thus, we may pose the question: Was a politically mobilized middle class a prerequisite to initiating a revolution or was there potential for anti-regime mobilization in the lower classes? Second, the primary grievances of the middle class were police brutality and system issues, such as education and health care. These grievances may not have been the primary complaints of the lower classes. How did the middle class who mobilized opposition promote frames of reference that resonated with all sectors of the population? Did different variables act as causes of protest among the middle as opposed to lower?
Fifth,  Cost/Benefit analysis: Related to the issue of social class is the cost/benefit analysis employed by the protesters. In many of the articles published since the Revolution, there is an assumption that the costs and benefits of protest remained constant among all sectors of the population.  he benefit was the expression of grievances and the potential for change and the cost was the probability of being imprisoned and/or subject to police brutality. 

However, the costs of protesting were not constant among social classes and even classes may be divided by cross-cutting cleavages when examining costs. I find that the middle class must be further divided into middle class students and the working middle class. While the cost for many middle class students was imprisonment, working members of the middle class had the additional cost of potential financial loss due to the instability that an uprising would bring, namely through lost wages or even loss of one;s job. 

Thus, the costs for many working members of the middle class were imprisonment and financial loss, meaning the threshold for protest was higher for employed members of the middle class (who are often older) than for middle class students. It appears that the threshold for employed members of the middle class was lowered only when ideology or grievances overcame costs. This is another avenue for research to obtain a better understanding of the drivers of political protest in Egypt and other Arab uprisings. 

In a country whose economy relies heavily on tourism, we should also examine the varying cost/benefit analysis of the lower class. Because social unrest could lead to a loss in tourism, causing financial loss and/or unemployment for members of the lower class, their cost of protesting was imprisonment and financial loss as well.  An area of research that I suggest academics explore further is variation in cost/benefit analyses of protest both within and between classes. 

On the other hand, factory workers, a not insignificant sector of the working class, seek better wages and working conditions.  Indeed, one of the powerful forces behind Ehypt's Arab Spring, the April 6th Movement, derived its name and inspritation from a large 2008 strike at the country's largest textile manufacturing plant at Mahalla al-Kubra in the Egyptian Delta.  

Although the Movement's members were largely young and educated, it also indicates the need to study the linkages between the young and educated middle classes, on the one hand, and industrial workers, on the other.  Were a  strong coalition to develop between these two social classes, it could mount a powerful challenge to Islamists and members of the ancien regime who would like to bring about a return to the status quo ante.

Sixth, Social Media: While my comments on social media may be obvious to academics already conducting research in the Middle East, I hope they can be helpful for those who are just starting out. First, it is crucial that one distinguish between social media sites in English and Arabic. As Khamis and Vaughn point out in their piece, “We are all Khaled Said,” Arabic sites have been geared toward the domestic population, while English sites tend to be used to garner international support. 
If one is examining the effect of social media on mobilizing the domestic population, one must look at the Arabic sites.  Further, when looking at “likes” on a Facebook page, not all the “likes” or comments come from within Egypt. Even on the Arabic pages, they may have come from other countries. Thus, “likes,” comments, and number of members of a page are not an accurate depiction of the page’s reach or impact.

Another problem concerning accuracy and numbers that I discovered in my research is that there were a number of Egyptians who obtained information from political Facebook pages without actually “liking” the page. Thus, the numbers viewed on Facebook may overstate or understate the reach of the page.  Finally, what anyone who has ever sent out a Facebook invite for an event will know, the number of people who say they are attending an event is never the number that actually materializes. 

On January 24, 2011, the Egypt Independent reported that 80,000 Egyptian Facebook users confirmed that they would attend the January 25th protests. However, at the beginning of the day, activists were disappointed with the lower than expected turnout. One interviewee stated that the protesters were initially students, intellectuals, and activists. While the numbers that day finally increased with the aid of people tweeting for others to join those who were already out in the streets and protesters gaining numbers as they marched through popular districts, the number that confirmed attendance on Facebook was clearly not the number that showed up.

Seventh, Women in the field: The last topic of discussion is directed toward women researching in Egypt. With the increasing absence of security on the streets, I would remind readers that the level of harassment and sexual assaults has increased substantially during the transitional period. For women conducting fieldwork in Cairo, while the city is still vibrant, fun, and offers rewarding human interaction, it is important to take the current instability and sensitivities into account. 
First, wear culturally appropriate clothing. This means wearing loose fitting long pants or a long skirt, long sleeves, and a high neckline. Not only will such attire decrease your exposure to harassment, but also when interviewing those who are more religiously conservative, you will meet with more willingness on the part of Egyptians to converse with you. 
Second, I would highly discourage attending protests unless necessary for academic purposes, and then only with the accompaniment of at least one imposing male. The ratio of males to females in a group should be at least equal, though more males to females in preferable. The numerous instances of mob attacks and sexual assaults on women at protests are an unfortunate reality. Even with a male chaperone, a woman’s safety is not guaranteed. 
Finally, be aware of those with whom you are interacting. Customs, such as appropriate methods of greeting, vary by social class, region, and level of religiosity. It is usually better to take a more conservative approach and then adjust depending on the situation.

As academics move away from preliminary explanations of the Revolution into more formal methods of analysis, such as process tracing or using the comparative method, it is important to start thinking about case selection, causal mechanisms, and how variables can be operationalized.  My aim in writing this short piece was to provide some helpful insights for those creating more formal research designs related to the Revolution and planning to conduct fieldwork on the ground. I also hope that I have offered some food for thought for those who are interested in how these protests came began and how they have evolved.  I hope my thoughts and analysis have been helpful.

[This is part of a series of posts on the Arab uprisings on The New Middle East, under the heading, "Making Sense of the Arab Spring"