Thursday, 29 January 2009

Democracy is alive in Iraq, now ethnic and religious polarisation need to be seriously reconsidered

Six years ago Iraq was ruled by a dictator. There were no elections, no organised opposition parties and no internal dissent or criticism of the autocratic regime. The country is now about to undergo historic elections, in which approximately 15,000 candidates representing a cross section of rival ethnic and religious groups are standing for just 440 seats. The country, which featured just one political party under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, now has over 400 political parties that appear to publish a seemlessly unending amount of propaganda and campaign leaflets. Participatory representative democracy is indeed alive in Iraq, but the problem remains that "Iraq" is just lines on a map to many of its inhabitants.

What people don't seem to realise or at least don't want to accept is that in addition to the inter-islamic polarisation that exists between Shia muslims and Shitte muslims, the nation is also ruptured by ethnic diversion. These divisions are deep and long-established. They cannot be eroded overnight or conveniently swept under a pile of progressive-sounding propaganda. In may senses Iraq suffers from similar aliements as a number of African "nations" which were carved onto maps by European colonisers. This is just as eveident in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recently Kenya. This isn't a post about how nation-states are made and what constitututes a nation, but they are fundamental questions to bear in mind as we watch the Iraqi elections.

Democracy is indeed present in Iraq, but until the religious and ethnic divisions that polarise and indeed haunt the nation, it is flimsy and open to corrution of the most severe and horrific sort. If Iraq is to progress, no, survive, there needs to be an overhaul of the nation's governance. Perhaps unitary devolution with a fully representative but weak central authority would just do it.

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