Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Consociational Iraq Revisited

A few days ago I put up a post on the Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon model (as studied in Arend Lijphart's Democracy in Plural Societies). In that post I quoted Fouad Ajami. Here's Ajami again, in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman of CFR:

    Everyone I've spoken to in Iraq, Kurdish leaders and Shiite leaders alike, will tell you no one has any intention to put together a new political process in Iraq that eliminates the Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arabs will have a place at the table. By the way, no one really knows for sure what the Sunni Arabs are as a percentage of the population. I've seen figures as low as 13%. I've seen figures as high as 20%. So, cut it any which way you want, the Sunni Arabs are at best 20%, at worst 13% of the population of Iraq.
    That's the problem for them. You know, in fact, look across the border so to speak, and see the Alawites who rule Syria. They are less than 11%. The Sunni Arabs will have a place at the table. They may even be overrepresented in the political process to come, if only because the Kurds and the Shiites want them to participate in the making of this new country because no repair can go on without them. So, they will grant them a place. But the Sunni Arabs have to understand that their age of hegemony is over and that's the hardest thing for them to accept.
    Shiite politicians will be looking for deals with Sunni and Kurdish politicians to build alliances. And they will find a constitutional process into which the Sunni Arabs will be invited in every conceivable way.

    It may be that [interim Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi will be brought back in as prime minister for yet another round. Why? Well, because he is a Shiite and a secularist. His old Baathist roots make him acceptable to the Sunnis. It may turn out that we will once again find Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the interim president from Mosul, quite acceptable and quite the proper choice for president, because of his manners, his decorum, and his decency. And although he is a Sunni Arab, he is very close to the Shiites. He is married to a Kurdish woman. And, he is the most consensual figure in Iraq.

    Now, it also may turn out for American policy that we may have to swallow our pride and deal with none other than Ahmad Chalabi, because Chalabi is back at the center of the political game. And he was the moving force behind the putting together of the so-called Sistani list, the United Iraq Alliance list. And there were earlier reports that the Americans have already signaled that if Chalabi wanted to be minister of interior, it's perfectly fine with them. So, I think we will discover the multiplicity of Iraq. We will discover the Sunnis will be back in the political process. We will discover the Shiites are much more divided than we thought. We will discover there will be anti-clericalism among the Shiites. We will discover that the Shiites don't want theocracy because it isn't anything that they've aspired to in the past. We will see the return of politics to Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Now that's the Lebanese in Fouad speaking!

On a separate note, Ajami's point on the "Shiite bogeyman" (as well as on the divisions and various currents -- theological and political -- in the Shiite community) is very important. Now take that and compare it to the unfortunate piece by John Burns and the quasi-propaganda piece by Steven Weisman linked to in my "Beyond Bias" post below. We are witnessing a shift in discourse in the anti-war (or should I say, anti-Bush) camp that is truly "slippery" and "bitter," to use Tim Cavanaugh's terms. The current prevailing wisdom is the "Iranian Shiite Crescent" theory, which was voiced by King Abdullah of Jordan (and which found a receptive ear in Juan Cole as well). If not that, then there's the theory that the only reason the Shiites voted is to get the Americans out. Or, the Sunnis will join the process only on condition that the Americans leave (this is the new route Juan Cole is trying now after everything else he said hit a dead end). If not, well you know the tune, "civil war" or "transcendent nationalist" revolt. OK, whatever. If it'll give you material to fill your blogs and papers and tv shows, then fine. As for me, like Ajami, I prefer to watch the far more exciting bargains and deals; the real stuff of politics in plural societies. In other words, I'll be observing the (granted, delicate and fragile) birth of a (consociational) democracy in a plural society.

Addendum: I refer you again to Michael Young's piece which I featured in this post. See also this post by Charles Paul Freund at Reason's H&R, which kindly quotes yours truly. And don't miss this older piece by Michael defending Lebanon's consociational system.

Update: I found this bibliographical list which includes more works by Lijphart and others on Consociational Democracies. See also this very recent paper (PDF) by Helga Malmin Binningsbø for more. And, if still interested, check out this essay by Rudy Andeweg in the Annual Review of Political Science. Finally, in case you haven't read Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict, make sure you get yourself a copy, pronto!

Here's an example of why Lijphart's theory is relevant for Iraq. I'll quote from Binningsbø's introduction. "A consociational democracy is a type of democracy which emphasizes the importance of power-sharing among different segments in society. This democracy is characterized by four main political institutions: a grand coalition, a mutual veto, a proportional representation and segmental autonomy (Lijphart 1969, 1977, 1985). Instead of a power division between government and opposition, most, if not all, groups in a consociational democracy will take part in the decision making." The grand coalitions are already being witnessed in Iraq. That's what Ajami highlighted as well, and that's what I mean when I talk about bargaining and deal making. Lijphart's consociational democracy theory also calls for a minority veto. This aims to protect minorities from a tyrannical majority. In Belgium, the 1970 constitutional reforms introduced such a minority veto to protect the French-speaking minority against the Dutch-speaking majority. Also the bicameral legislatures both in Switzerland and Belgium aim to give special representation to the minorities by giving both houses equal power. The Kurds fought for this veto and got it. Lijphart's model also calls for proportionality in representation (but also in civil service appointments, etc.). This is precisely what Ajami is talking about with regard to the Sunnis. But that is also why Juan Cole's proposal of an exceptional set-aside is short-sighted and ultimately useless. Consociational democracy theory also calls for a form of decentralization whereby the groups are allowed to run their internal affairs. While not exactly federalism, this already sounds familiar when it comes to the Iraqi context and the main post-war proposals. The most vocal herald of federalism was Kanan Makiya, as can be seen in his essay "A Model for Post-Saddam Iraq" which appeared in the Journal of Democracy 14.3 (2003) 5-12.

Needless to say the theory has its holes and weaknesses and has been criticized. But for all its downsides, it's much more preferrable to 1) dictatorship or authoritarian rule (which supposedly guarantees "stability.") This is the realist credo, which so happens to be the Sunni Arab nationalist and the ME regimes' credo as well! 2) A majoritarian rule, which, needless to say, will not work in Iraq. That will arguably lead to civil war.

P.S. I'll hopefully be adding soon a few more links to essays on the application of the consociational model in Iraq.