Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Iraq’s fragile political balance

Al-Ahram Weekly

The ongoing demonstration against Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s government continued to dominate front pages of Arab dailies. The Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar reported that early parliamentary elections and the formation of a transitional government not headed by Al-Maliki appeared as the two most viable options out of the current political impasse the country has been experiencing for a month now. The proposal made by former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi has been gaining momentum among larger sections of Iraqi protesters. The paper also referred to the key role played by the young Shia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr who threw his weight behind the anti-Maliki demonstration and declared his support for the protesters’ “legitimate demands”.

The surprising public appearance of one of Saddam Hussein’s key aides, Ezzat Al-Dori, raised a few eyebrows since he decided to go public with his views regarding political developments in Iraq. The London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi described it as “a rare appearance” by Al-Dori coinciding with the escalation of anti-government demonstrations. Invoking sectarian sentiments, Al-Dori accused Al-Maliki’s government of “seeking to execute a Persian scheme to divide Iraq into statelets”. Al-Dori disclosed that the group he is presiding over is considering a proposal to carry out operations against those who are involved in implementing the Persian scheme be they military or civilian targets.

Al-Dori’s appearance on the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya channel cannot be divorced from Saudi Arabia’s constant attempts to emphasis the sectarian nature of the protest movement to the exclusion of the legitimate demands of the Iraqi protesters regardless of their sectarian identity. Clearly, the protesters, aware of attempts to portray protests as sectarian-inspired, appeared keen to emphasise that their movement is inspired by genuine political and economic grievances. Banners and slogans emphasised the national aspect of the protests such as “Sunnis and Shia are brothers” and “No to sectarianism”.

Muqtada Al-Sadr’s participation in the unity prayers on Friday 4 January also lent support to this stand. Both the embattled Iraqi prime minister and his Saudi adversaries appear to be singing from the same musical sheet when they both insist the protests are sectarian motivated. In an op-ed in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Iraqi writer and novelist Haifaa Zangana reserved some harsh criticism for Al-Maliki because he accused protesters of sectarianism and serving “external foreign actors.

“Such accusations,” wrote Zangana, “are coming from someone who is secretary-general of a sectarian-based party which does not have any non-Shia members.

“Al-Maliki is the last one to talk about foreign actors since he came to power on American occupation tanks.” Zangana explained how today’s demonstration was a protest “against years of marginalisation, sectarian and ethnic quota, financial and administrative corruption, as well as the legitimisation of state sponsored terror against its own citizens.”

Lamis Andoni, writing in Al-Arab Al-Youm (Arabs Today) under ‘Iraqi Intifada and sectarianism’ criticised attempts to impose a sectarian edge to the Iraqi protest movement. Andoni wrote that the sectarian discourse “permeated all internal social conflicts particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq and that some — inside and outside of Iraq — were hoping that the Iraqi protest movement would turn into ‘a Sunni revolution’ against Shia influence in the region.”

Andoni pointed out that Iran was complacent in feeding sectarian sentiments in Iraq through either its blatant support for sectarian Shia parties or the current Iraqi government, but “to say this is one thing and to try to portray what is going on in Iraq as a Sunni war against Shia influence is another thing altogether.” It means, Andoni continued, “playing according to the rules of the American and Israeli schemes of the region to cover up for Zionist colonial expansion and that the Arab world would be reduced to sectarian entities.

“Sectarian inspired policies should not be met by sectarian inspired schemes and what could be an Intifada for freedom and justice should not turn into a sectarian campaign against the Shia.”

Moving to the Syrian crisis and early on in the week expectations were high regarding an imminent settlement to the two-year-old Syrian crisis. What lent support to such expectations was the visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Cairo on Sunday. Syria was expected to be the topic dominating the talks to revive a multilateral effort for an exit strategy.

The news about Bashar Al-Assad’s speech on Sunday has been presented as a breakthrough in the Syrian crisis. Al-Akhbar described it “the settlement speech”. Speculation has been rife as to the motives behind the speech and its timing and whether this development would usher in the beginning of the end of the Syrian crisis. The timing, according to Al-Akhbar’s news analysis, has to do with the fact that one of the most contentious points has to do with the fate of Al-Assad in any given settlement. But as the international community and particularly the American administration has come to the conclusion that the regime cannot be defeated militarily and that the armed opposition cannot win the day on the ground. The mushrooming of Jihadi groups that have taken control of the situation on the ground despite US attempts to put them on the terror list, sent alarm bell ringing. A settlement inspired by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s four-point plan appears to be endorsed by Al-Assad on the condition that it does not refer to Al-Assad stepping down, instead allowing him to run against other candidates in the presidential elections in 2014 and to let the ballot box decide. The plan outlines the exit strategy as follows: a ceasefire, dispatching international monitors to Syria to supervise the ceasefire, forming a founding committee to make constitutional amendments, forming a national unity government and conducting parliamentary elections under full international supervision. In his speech, Al-Assad more or less cited this plan as a viable way out.

On Monday 7 January the Arab press was much more concerned with the opposition reaction to the speech rather than to the speech and its theatrics. The Saudi financed and London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Monday that the Syrian opposition rejected any initiative that would keep Al-Assad as president of Syria. Al-Hayat quoted Walid Al-Bunni, an opposition figure commenting on the speech, “We said since the beginning that we want a political settlement to the crisis but the Syrians did not make all the sacrifices just to let the tyranny who is ruling Syria remain.”

Al-Hayat also disclosed that the secretary-general of the Syrian National Council was working to outline a plan for the transfer of power and the beginning of a transitional period in Syria. The nine-point plan proposed the formation of an interim government with full international recognition and insists that Al-Assad and leading figures of his regime should step down. Other points include dissolving all security apparatuses except for the police department, purging the army of pro-Al-Assad elements and releasing all political detainees in place.

The issue of Jihadi groups dictating the battle scene in Syria today was addressed in an op-ed in the Lebanese daily Assafir by Syrian activist and writer Michele Kilo. In ‘I told you there would be bloodbath’, Kilo took issue with the fact that an Islamist rule is most likely to be the alternative. Kilo wrote that Islamists are not necessarily democrats and posed the question “Can anyone calling for the downfall of Al-Assad and his regime be considered democratic and revolutionary?” The Syrian activist expressed fears that the downfall of the regime might be just a phase in the Syrian crisis which will make Syria ungovernable for some time to come. “Both the Gulf and Israel do not want democratic rule in Syria and they will resist this and if part of the Gulf is fearful of ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] rule while the other part is in favour of it and supports it through funds and weapons, would they allow the establishment of a democratic Syria which they already rejected? Is it not better for them to cross Syria out from the map of the region?”

On a different topic, Saudi academic Madawi Al-Rashid raises a few questions in her weekly op-ed in Al-Quds Al-Arabi about the role of Saudi youth who constitute the biggest age group in the region, in shaping the change in the kingdom. Al-Rashid poses the question: could Saudi youth spearhead the political and social change in the kingdom or will they remain handcuffed and unable to work collectively to trigger the changes? Al-Rashid goes on to explain the numerous hurdles standing in the way of an active youth movement including social constraints, patriarchal authority and the lack of forms of organisations such as political parties and student movements to overcome fragmentation and individualism. This movement alone, supported by a strong network of social media, can build a popular base to spear the long sought after political change in the kingdom.

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