Across the Bay

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model

Is anyone really surprised to hear this? Not if you were a Lebanese.

Back in the early 90's, in the heyday of Syrian hegemony, the Aounist faction decided to boycott the elections due to the Syrian presence. Guess what? The elections went ahead and the Aounists found themselves out of the government and irrelevant. They then realized that they had to join in if they were to have any influence, and they did, and their candidate almost won in one instance in Baabda where the victory would have been highly symbolic. At the time Walid Jumblat's influence in the Chouf was the only reason why they lost. But now things have changed and the Aounists and Jumblat are part of the same opposition, and now even the government is trying to cajole Aoun (whom until recently it wanted to prosecute for treason!) in order to break the opposition! In all likelihood, the Aounists, who are by no means the strongest faction in the opposition or the Christian community, are going to be players with seats in the government via normal elections (as opposed to a sell-out deal). The same applies to the Lebanese Forces, the formidable Christian party which was banned by the Syrians.

As Fouad Ajami recently wrote on Iraq, reason will hopefully, if not likely, prevail:

    [A]fter the wrath and the terror are spent, after the
    Sunni mainstream in Mosul and Fallujah and Baghdad
    comes to a recognition that there can be no
    conceivable return to the ways of the past, there may
    come a choice in favor of sobriety and reason.

What the Sunnis will hopefully learn is what the Lebanese have hopefully learned: your country is a consociational democracy. Communities deal and bargain and manage to live together, no matter how uneasy that experience is. The difference in Iraq is that there is a clear majority, something that is alien to Lebanon. The Shiites' moderation is therefore essential in all of this, but more importantly, a consitution that prevents a tyranny of the majority is essential, which is what the Kurds have been asking for. This is why the focus is on the consitution. There needs to be a formula that accomodates all. This was the essence of the National Pact in Lebanon, and despite being criticized (sometimes rightly) for so long, it's now proving to be an enlightened formula that tried to find a balance between the communities that make up the country. That's what's being negotiated in Iraq, and suddenly the Lebanon model is not all that bad! Hell, even Juan Cole called for a "set aside," a guaranteed percentage for the Sunnis in parliament (although he wanted it to be an exceptional, one time thing, which is counterproductive in my view)! You can't get any more Lebanon than that!

The Iraqis will find their way I'm sure. Even the violence is part of the negotiation, as unfortunate and ill-advised as it is. Let's just hope the rage Ajami talked about passes soon and sobriety takes over. That would be a huge success for everyone.

Addendum: I forgot to include this piece by Michael Young on the subject. Make sure you read it. See also this discussion between Young and Josh Landis.

Update: Spencer Ackerman has a similar analysis vis-à-vis the Sunnis and the necessity for moderation on the Shiites' part. However, I'm not sure I agree with his point that "the surest way for a Shia government to win Sunni investment in the process" is to negotiate a US withdrawal. I think the Shiites are very much relying on the US to maintain order, and safeguard against an attempt by the Sunnis to retake control, for the near future. Witness how they relied on the US to smack around Muqtada and how they sat quietly as Fallujah was bombarded. But maybe I'm wrong. For more on this and related matters, see this post by Greg Djerejian over at Belgravia Dispatch.