Across the Bay

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Center vs. Periphery

Via Greg Djerejian (Belgravia Dispatch) comes this interesting post and this link to an ICG paper on central government and local governance in Iraq. Here's the quote highlighted by Greg:

"Local government is no substitute for central government, and there is a great need to recreate a sense of national identity. But in the context of rising violence, a growing sectarian and ethnic divide, and doubts on the feasibility and impact of national elections, the best way for now to protect the centre from centrifugal tendencies is, paradoxical as this may seem, to strengthen government at the various local levels. This means not only electing local governments but effectively empowering them, particularly on budgetary matters, and improving communication between national ministries and local councils. Without such steps, the isolated central state and the neglected local councils will both lose relevance and be unable to hold a fragile country together."

This might ring a bell to some readers who followed the discussion started by Joshua Landis on his site, Syria Comment, on za'imism in Lebanon (see the comments section for the replies, including mine).

This remains the greatest challenge for the ME, especially if we're seeking to establish political and cultural pluralism in the region (especially the highly multiethnic countries): how to balance the central state and the various peripheries? It will be impossible to achieve if Arab nationalism remains the dominant ideology. This has been the center of my discussions with Joshua Landis and in my arguments on the blog. The upside I always saw was the fostering of pluralistic politics, which counter dictatorship. The possible shortcomings that I concede to Josh are the risks of anti-individualism and nepotism (which leads to an anti-merit system).

Kanan Makiya presented his views on federalism in Iraq in an article in the Journal of Democracy (14.3 [2003] 5-12) entitled "A Model for Post-Saddam Iraq" (see also this interview). I would paste it all for you, but it's restricted access, and I don't want to get in trouble over copy rights! But I will paste his section on Ethnicity and Statehood right below:

Ethnicity and Statehood

The logical corollary of territoriality as a basis for federalism is that the new Iraqi state cannot be thought of in any politically meaningful sense of the term as an
Arab entity. This is a novel idea for the region but it follows inexorably from a territorial definition of regions as opposed to an ethnic one.

Israel is today a Jewish state in which a substantial number of Arab Palestinians—more than a million—have Israeli citizenship but are not and cannot in principle ever be full-fledged citizens of the state of Israel. The fact that they live in better conditions than their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza, or those in refugee camps all over the Arab world, is not an argument for second-class citizenship. In principle, because they are in a religiously or ethnically defined state, they are second-class citizens and one day in the future, it seems to me, the two principles upon which the state of Israel was created—ethnicity and democracy—are probably going to come into conflict with one another.

We should not want such a formula for Iraq. Iraqis deserve to live in an Iraq in which a Kurd or a Chaldean or an Assyrian or a Turkoman, be they male or female, can in principle all be elected to the highest offices of the land. That means that even though the Arabs form a majority in the country, their majority status should not put them in a position to exclude anyone else from positions of power and influence as was the case in the old regime, led as it was by a party that called itself the Arab Ba'ath Socialist party. A democratic Iraq will be one that by definition exists for all its citizens equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. And that means an Iraq that will not imagine itself as an
Arab nation. p. 9.

On the thorny subject of ethnic groups and the state, see, for the ME, the volume edited by Milton Esman and Itamar Rabinovich entitled Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State in the Middle East (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988). In particular see the essay by Gabriel Ben-Dor on Ethnopolitics and ME states. The essays by Kemal Karpat and P. J. Vatikiotis are also important. See also Ethnic Groups and the State ed., P. Brass (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985) -- esp. Kemal Karpat's essay -- and Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). Also of interest is the volume edited by Philip Khoury and Joseph Kostiner, Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). Tribes of course are the other crucial loci of identity and socio-political organization in the ME that have been in competition with the Arab nationalist state.

Addendum: Here's a relevant quote from Gabriel Ben-Dor's essay in the Esman & Rabinovich volume mentioned above:

"Federal thinking, however, is geared toward the sharing of sovereignty by states and other political forces in an institutionalized structural arrangement. It is the devolution of some state power to political subcommunities. But state power, in order to be devolved, is first to be had -- and it is not yet available in the necessary quantity -- or quality. For the sharing of sovereignty between the state and the subcommunities, the state must first acquire institutionalized strength to be able to deal with sovereignty in the first place, and such strength is still in short supply (though it has recently been growing). If some other regions of the world have fared better in dealing with ethnic problems, it is not because they have had easier problems but because they have had stronger solutions, or at least frameworks for solutions. The trouble in the relationship between ethnopolitics and the Middle Eastern state is not too much ethnicity, but too little stateness." (p. 92).