Sunday, August 2, 2009

In Iraq, it's the economy (and autocracy) stupid!

Photo of supporter of Change (Gorran)
List in streets of Sulaymaniya

Many of us remember the catchy phrase that James Carville coined during Bill Clinton's 1992 run for the US presidency: "It's the economy stupid!" As Clinton's main political adviser, Carville urged Clinton to focus on that which most concerned voters at the time, the terrible state of the US economy.
As analysts continue to focus on Iraq's ethnic divisions, they consistently fail to ask the very simple but important question: why do such divisions exist? Assuming that none of us believe in sociobiology, namely that Arabs and Kurds (and other Iraqi ethnic groups) emerge from the womb disliking or even hating each other, the core question of what drives ethnic divisions in Iraq needs to be raised. Unfortunately, it rarely is, in part because analysts continue to concentrate on elites, to the detriment of studying public opinion and non-elite political parties and civil society organizations.
The recent Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Assembly Elections, that were held on July 25th, demonstrated that most Kurds are less worried about Iraq's Arabs to the south than the lack of jobs in Iraq's 3 northern Kurdish provinces and the pervasive corruption and autocracy that characterizes the two parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), that have ruled the semi-autonomous KRG since the US imposed a "No-Fly Zone" in 1991.
Because analysts largely ignore the political economy of Iraqi Kurdistan (and that of the south as well), they have little to say about the underlying dynamics of Kurdish politics. While it is true that most members of the Change (Gorran) List, that did very well in the July 25 elections, are former PUK members, including its leader Nawshiran Mustafa, that does not explain why they won 50% (and possible more) of the vote in the city of Sulaymaniya. Overall the Change List won 25% of the KRG Assembly Election votes, and the Reform and Services List - a coalition of Islamist parties and the Kurdish Socialist Party - won about 10%. Winning 35% of the vote against the KRG, which has had a lock on politics in Iraqi Kurdistan, and which used its considerable reserves of oil wealth to try and swing the election its way, is highly impressive. Perhaps the results are even more impressive if reports that candidates who joined the Change List and held government posts, e,g, deanships and professorships in Kurdish universities (see, were dismissed from their positions are in fact true.
All interviews indicate that Kurds are fed up with the corruption and authoritarian rule of the KRG, presided over by president and KDP leader, Masoud Barzani. Despite the fact that Masoud Barzani's father, Mullah Mustafa (d. 1975), still holds almost mythic status among older Kurds for his efforts to achieve an independent Kurdish state in the late 1940s and after, younger Kurds are more concerned with jobs and the ability to express themselves than with a history that none of them experienced. Certainly, the sentiments of voters prior to and after the elections underscore the desire for a more transparent government and using the oil wealth in KRG coffers for the Kurdish populace and not just the KDP-PUK elite.
Indeed, this was what I discovered when I visited the KRG. Few Kurds were concerned with Arab-Kurdish relations. In my research in the north I discovered that many young Arabs who have moved with their families to the north, as a result of sectarian violence in the south, have made friendships with young Kurds without any problems. A delegation of Iraqi youth that recently visited the US was comprised of many young Kurds who also indicated that they had no difficulty forming friendships with Arabs their own age when I spoke with them. While Kurdish-Arab relations do not seem high on the agenda of most Kurds, virtually all complained about corruption and lack of jobs. Indeed, I found many professionals, including lawyers and engineers, who were forced to take second jobs to support their families. With the proceeds from oil contracts known to be divided 3 ways, between the KRG, foreign investors and "other," Kurds completely understand the extent to which oil wealth is taken from the public purse for illegitimate ends. On the political side, Kurds implored me not to return to the US and speak of "Kurdish democracy," since they argued that civil society organizations require a government permit and that KRG officials are constantly looking over the shoulders of all members of such organizations to monitor their activities.
What will be the result of the Assembly Elections? First, with Change and Reform and Services lists having members in the KRG Assembly, the traditional KDP-PUK leadership will find it much more difficult to manipulate ethnic divisions, namely pitting Kurds against Arabs. Rather than being able shifting the focus from autocracy and corruption in the KRG to such issues as the contested city of Kirkuk and disputed areas along the KRG-southern border,the KRG leadership will be forced instead to confront, in the regional parliament, allegations of corruption and autocratic rule. President Masoud Barzani's ability to act as a "sectarian entrepreneur" will be dramatically diminished as the KRG will need to address, for the first time, widespread criticism coming from its own populace. This form of "checks and balances" is an incredibly healthy development in Kurdish politics.
What do the KRG Regional Assembly Elections imply for the future of Iraqi politics? If the traditional Kurdish leadership fails to coopt or suppress the new Change and Reform and Services lists, then there may be a greater opening for Kurdish-Arab cooperation in Iraq. In the January 30, 2009 Legislative Assembly Elections in the Arab south of Iraq, results paralleled much of what just occurred in the Kurdish north. Large numbers of Arab Iraqis voted against sectarian parties and cast their votes instead for parties that promised to deliver services and transparent governance. Provincial legislatures in the south likewise will provide critical "checks and balances" against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad.
Because both these regional elections mirror what public opinion in Iraq has shown for some time, i.e., the desire for democratic governance (64% of Iraqis indicated that democracy is the best form of government in a March 2009 ABC/BBC/NHK poll), forward looking Iraqi political leaders and parties should move to develop cross-regional coalitions that bring Kurds and Arabs together who seek to rid both the KRG and the central government in Baghdad of the massive corruption that characterizes them both. Although he is still tied to the PUK, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh, is an ideal interlocutor for developing this type of political coalition.
When the Iraqi Parliament recently investigated the Iraqi Minister of Trade (see my post, "During Saddam's time, we could only dream of seeing something like this"), he was forced to resign as a result of parliamentary hearings,and will be tried for misusing public funds. Using elected legislatures - obviously a core component of any functioning democracy - broad based coalitions can work together to bring better governance to Iraq and insure that its oil wealth is directed at the people's needs rather than go into the coffers of Kurdish and Arab elites. When studying Arab and Kurdish politics in Iraq, analysts would do well to remember James Carville's admonition, "It's the Economy Stupid!," to which we should add, "It's autocracy as well!."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Iraq Turning the Corner on Sectarian Politics?

One of the questions raised by the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities is whether Iraq has moved away from the sectarian violence that characterized the country at its high point between 2005 and 2007. Answers to the question are critical if Iraq is to make progress in achieving political stability, a prerequisite for engaging in a serious process of narrow reconciliation.
In a short article, “Reflections on Religion and Politics in Post-Bacthist Iraq,” (http://fas-polisci.rutgers,edu), I argued for a distinction between ethnic hostility and ethnic violence. All ethnically divided countries experince varying degress of ethnic tensions. But that deos not mean such tensions explode into violence.
An article in the June 25th edition of al-Hayat, “Khalid 'Atiya to al-Hayat: The Investigations are Just Electioneering Propaganda Whose Object is Ministers of a Particular Sect,” includes an interview with the First Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Khalid 'Atiya. The interview underscores that sectarian tensions still influence the work of Parliament Khalid 'Atiya complains that the efforts to summon cabinet ministers to appear before parliament to answer to changes of corruption and mismanagement in their ministries is politically motivated. With the Sunni Arab speaker of the Parliament a well-known for of Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki, it is understandable that Deputy Speaker ‘Atiya might view these procedures as anti-Shi’a and hence sectarian in nature. The problem with such an interpretation is that the head of Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee is a Shi'i himself and a member of the al-Fadila Party whose power base is in the southern port city of Basra.
What is much more significant about this article is cAtiya’s focus on the need to reconstitute the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) which was the coalition of Shi'i political parties that dominated the December 2005 parliamentary elections. Since that time, the Sadrist Trend (Mahdi Army) and Fadila Party have left the Alliance and relations between the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and Maliki’s Da'wa Party have become strained. at this points to first and foremost is that the Shi'i community in Iraq is politically diverse. More importantly, it points to the temporary nature of the Shi'i coalition which reflected more the fear of a Ba'thist effort to regain power in 2005 and the need for solidarity in light of the fact that the Shi'a had never controlled the reigns of government before. This the turn to clerical support and the solidarity of the major Shi'i parties was more a response to uncertainty than ideological unity.
Even more interesting in the interview with Khalid 'Atiya was his argument that a reconstituted UIA would need to reflect the interests of the Shi'i community but would also have to open its doors to parties dominated by other ethnic groups. He specifically mentioned Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Although these comments may be seen as an attempt to humor the reporter conducting the interview and to appeal to al-Hayat’s readership, the increasing need for Iraqi politicians to appeal to a large Iraqi national identity as opposed to a more narrow ethnoconfessional appeal points to the increasing difficulties sectarian force face in Iraq. The rejection of sectarianism was clear in the January 2009 Provincial Council elections, which Khalid 'Atiya blames in part for promoting the more assertive nature of the Parliament.
Despite the cynicism that may underlie Deputy Speaker 'Atiya’s comments, the symbolism of his position is important. It sends a message to political actors and voters alike that the emphasis in political mobilization should be on Iraqiness, and not on one’s ethnoconfessional background. The question then becomes why does Khalid c
'Atiya feel the need to move beyond sectarian appeals to a narrow Shi’i political base?
The answer lies both in Iraqi public opinion which, having seen the violence and corruption that sectarian political parties bring to the political process, reject such Politics. It also reflects the impact of a nascent democracy in Iraq. While next year’s parliamentary elections may yield some very problematic outcomes, such as giving Nuri al-Maliki a mandate to impose an increasingly authoritarian rule on Iraq, Khalid 'Atiya and all the other deputies in parliament have to worry about their political longevity. As the Provincial legislative elections demonstrated, voters often “throw the rascals out.” In a democracy, broad based appeals that seek to form working coalitions trump narrow based appeals that reduces the number of potential supporters among the electorate.
It is small steps, such as those indicated in the interview with First deputy Speaker Khalid 'Atiya that may point to a more stable, tolerant and democratic Iraq

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"During Saddam's time, we could only dream of seeing something like this"

The quote above by a young Iraqi refers to the televised questioning of Iraqi Trade Minister, Abd al-Falah al-Sudany, in the Iraqi Parliament this past Saturday and Sunday, on charges of corruption. This event represents by any standard an important step forward in promoting democracy in Iraq. Having the questioning televised throughout the country not only allowed millions of Iraqis to see their government in action, but points to the power of the media in promoting democracy in post-2003 Iraq.

Transparency International has labeled Iraq as one of the most corrupt states in the world, ranking it 178 of 180 on its country list. Iraqis have long been fed up with government ministers who view their ministries' budgets as extensions of their own private purse. Resentment and anger at government corruption has been intensified by the lack of state services available to the Iraqi citizenry, such as electricity, health care, police protection, education, and garbage removal.

Thus to make Minister of Trade al-Sudany submit to hours of televised questioning by the Iraqi Parliament's Integrity Committee Chair, Sabah al-Sa'idi, a member of the Fadila Party, whose power base is in the southern port city of Basra, was eye opening and exhilarating for many Iraqis. Parliament member, Bassam Sharif, also a member of Fadila, indicated to reporters that 100 representatives had signed a no confidence vote in the Trade Minister, far more than the 50 required for such a vote. A vote on this measure in Parliament is expected next Sunday.

The main charge against the Trade Minister, who is a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ruling al-Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party, was his taking of millions of dollars from the national food ration program upon which many Iraqi depend for sustenance. Minister al-Sudany also had to answer to charges that two of his brothers received a $40 kickback for each ton of sugar that was distributed by the Trade Ministry.

Perhaps most ominous for the system of institutionalized corruption that has developed since 2003 is the Parliament's request that the ministers of oil, electricity and transportation also appear for questioning. Thus a message has been sent that there are limits to corrupt behavior on the part of government officials.

What this action shows is the benefits of a system of governance built on checks and balances. The newly assertive Parliament, keen to be reelected during the next parliamentary elections that will take place sometime between December 2009 and February 2010, needs to demonstrate to the Iraqi public that its members are serving its needs. Even if the motivations behind the parliamentary hearings are cynical, the fact that they are addressing one of the most important problems facing Iraq, namely corruption, indicates the benefits of democracy.

These actions in the Iraqi Parliament demonstrate the power of the media. Few analysts in the West have focused on the vigorous Iraqi press and communications media that has developed since 2003. Myriad Iraqi blogs have also disseminated enormous amounts of information to the Iraqi public. Clearly, the distribution of information is key to a well functioning democracy.

And let's not forget the "neighbohood effects" of the televised questioning of the Iraqi Trade Minister. al-Jazeera and other Arabic television channels will certainly broadcast them elsewhere in the Arab world. As with the January 2009 Provincial Legislature elections, seeing Iraqis engage in democratic practices will no doubt have a highly subversive impact on the authoritarian Arab states that surround Iraq.

The televised hearing also point to the shortcomings of viewing Iraq only through an ethnic and confessional lens (see my posting "10 Conceptual Sins in the Study of Middle East Politics"). Corruption has little to do with ethnic or religious differences. Both Minister al-Sudany and Integrity Committee Chief al-Sa'idi are Shi'is. Rather the issue of corruption calls upon everyone concerned with Iraq's development to pay more attention to political economy. No ethnic group or religion has a monopoly on virtue. Corruption in political office knows no ethnic or religious bounds. In many ways, the continued obsession in the West with viewing Iraq through an "ethnoconfessional" lens draws attention away from Iraq's real problems.

Nevertheless, the fact that a sitting minister was grilled by Parliament on charges of corruption for the first time in the political history of modern Iraq, a history that extends back to the state's founding in 1921, represents a major step forward in the process of democratization in Iraq. I suspect it will not be the last.

N.B.: In this posting, I benefited greatly from, "Iraqis react to public grilling of government minister: Some Iraqis said they saw the televised questioning of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al Sudany as the birth of a real democracy," by Jack Dolan, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi, Miami Herald, May 20, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Understanding Iraq Through the Taxi Cab

"It has often been said, on those rare occasions when the brutal climate eased up a bit, that a beautiful day is wasted on Iraq." With these words, New York Times correspondent Rod Nordland begins his article, "Iraq's False Spring," on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, "Week in Review" section, for April 26 ("Iraq's False Spring").

A photograph of a young Iraqi watering beautiful flowers on a large field in a Baghdad park is set above the article. But the contrast between the photograph, on the one hand, and the pink coloring of the words "False" in the title, and the general negativity of much of the article is striking. Obviously the author and the editors at the Times sought to contrast the "illusion" of progress in Iraq as seen through the blossoming of beautiful flowers, with the "reality" of the situation on the ground as described by correspondent Nordland.

But the more important question is how does Mr. Nordland arrive at the negative assessments of Iraq that question whether any of the changes, such as the decline in violence, will in fact be durable? Clearly, the taxicab is one of his main sources in arriving at his assessments. Thus we learn that Mr. Norland has returned to Iraq after "an absence of six months." Riding in his taxicab from Baghdad International Airport elicits this comment: "Driving along the airport highway once was a trembling quarter-hour on a road that defied taming. Now it’s getting landscaping. Neighborhoods like Jihad alongside it once treated the highway like a carnival duck shoot. Now they’re pacified behind anti-sniper walls painted in bold diagonal stripes: yellow, orange, white, pale blue, purple, pink and green."

Other scenes from the taxicab window inform us that the Council of Ministers' compound has murals that offer scenes that "range from Sumerian through Greco-Roman to abstract Arabic." Correspondent Nordland also points to the famous water fountain by Iraqi sculptor and artist, Khalid al-Rahhal (b. 1926) that sits in front of the Rashid Hotel, and the efforts to revive al-Zawra Park, "once best known for its sorry zoo and its suicide bomb craters," but now hosting the "first Baghdad Flower Show." Mr. Norland goes on, "No doubt there are many better flower shows, but this one stunned with its incongruity. Flowers were almost as rare as beautiful days before, and as wasted on Iraq."

So what is the reader of the April 26 Sunday Times to take away from Rod Norland's article? Where are his references to some of the reasons violence has declined in Iraq and now Iraqis can pay more attention to beautifying Baghdad and other areas of the country, including organizing flower shows? The reader wouldn't have a clue because like much of the reporting on Iraq since 2003, change is never explained, usually because journalists haven't done the hard work of learning the intricacies of Iraqi society.

Where, for example, is his discussion of the Iraqi Peace Network (IPN), an official NGO with 60 chapters that developed out of the Nahwa al-Salaam ("Towards Peace") project. The IPN includes young and old, tribesmen farmers and urban professionals, men and women and secular and religious Iraqis, i.e., Iraqi from all walks of life? Why is there no emphasis on the Iraqi business sector? The Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IACCI) has been involved in developing middle level commercial and industrial projects since the fall of Saddam Husayn's regime, even during the worst of the sectarian based violence from 2004 until 2007. These projects have often brought together businessmen from different sects, e.g., Kurds and Arabs.

Nor can Mr. Nordland explain why Sunni and Shiite Arab youth still intermarry or why many youth paint murals depicting peace on blast walls in Baghdad and elsewhere as a message that they reject sectarianism. The public opinion poles that show a trend towards a unitary Iraqi state (not one divided along ethnic lines, and a rejection of organizing politics along sectarian lines are also not discussed. The January 31, 2009 Provincial Elections that occurred with no reports of violence and that were considered very fair according to Iraqi and foreign observers likewise does not appear to be an appropriate topic.

Instead Mr. Nordland has focused on such topics as the interest of wealthy Iraqis in Hummer automobiles, Iraqis Snap Up Hummers as Icons of Power ("Iraqis Snap Up Hummers as Icons of Power"; the return of vice to Baghdad ("Secure Enough to Sin, Baghdad Revisits Old Ways"); and attacks on the Baghdad gay community, ("Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder"). These articles represent an attempt to discuss daily life in Iraq, as opposed to Iraqi politics, such as US-Iraqi relations, the security situation and the problems of integrating the Sons of Iraq/Awakening Movement into the army, police and government bureaucracy. While these "human interest" stories, such as violence against gays, are very important, why can't Mr. Nordland find time to focus on positive developments in Iraq? Is there any society on the planet where everything is going in a negative direction, with no positive developments?

When I was a graduate students many years ago at the University of Chicago, I drove a taxicab. Like my fellow cab drivers, I would expound on almost any topic my passenger raised. However, I never told my fares that the best way to understand Chicago politics and society was to ride around the city in a taxi cab. American reporters need to get "out of the taxi cab" as it were, focus less on interviewing the power elite in Iraq and elsewhere in non-Western countries, and put in the time and effort to really get to know they societies on which they are reporting. They owe that to both their Western readers and the societies, such as Iraq, that they describe and analyze on a daily basis.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arabic Translation of "10 Conceptual Sins" in Analyzing Middle East Politics

كتابة: الدكتور اريك دافيس

استاذ العلوم السياسية في جامعة رتجرز

ومدير برنامج الدراسات العليا

والمدير السابق لمركز دراسات الشرق الاوسط

عشرة أخطاء جسيمة ومبدئية في تحليل سياسة الشرق الأوسط

الخطاء ألأول: إن عدداً كبيراً وللأسف من الذين يحللون سياسة الشرق ألأوسط من المحللين السياسيين أو الصحافيين أو الاختصاصين الاكدميين لا يتعاطون مع التاريخ بجدية وذلك لأنهم يفشلون في وضع سياسة الشرق الأوسط في ألإطار التاريخي ولن يكونوا موضوعيين إلا إذا كان لهم بعد نظر وعالجوا التحولات السياسية في المنطقة بشكل سليم.

بعض المحللين لاحظوا على سبيل المثال أن العراقيين لم يكونوا متحمسين عندما أسقطت أميركا نظام صدام حسين في نيسان 2003 فهذا لا يدل على أن العراقيين لم يكونوا ممتنين وشاكرين بل إن الأكثرية هللت لرؤية اندحار نظام صدام.

إن بعض العراقيين الذين يملكون الحس والوعي التاريخي يعرفون أن الولايات المتحدة ساعدت صدام حسين في الحرب الإيرانية العراقية ويذكر العراقيون جيدا أنه عندما دعاهم الرئيس جورج بوش الأب إلى الانتفاض ضد صدام حسين سنة 1990 أخذوا بكلامه وأطاعوه. في مطلق الأحوال ليس فقط إن الولايات المتحدة لم تتدخّل لتساعد الانتفاضة في شباط 1991 بل سمحت لطائرات الهليكوبتر المقاتلة دخول منطقة الحظر وضرب المقاومة.

أما عندما علّق "دونلد رامسفيلد" على عمليات النهب والسرقات التي حصلت في بغداد في شهر نيسان 2003 فقد صرّح أنها أتت نتيجة لسعر الحرية المستوجب على العراقيين دفعه. علماً أن وزارات الدولة نهبت بالكامل وكذلك المتحف الوطني فقد خسر معظم محتوياته التي لا تقدّر بثمن. ولذلك فقد العراقيون الثقة بالانضمام إلى قوات إدارة بوش والتي وعدتهم بنقل الديمقراطية إلى العراق.

ألخطأ إذاً يتعلق مباشرة بفكرة "الشرق إلاوسط ألازلي" أي بما أن الشرق الاوسط لن يتغير مطلقاً فلا ضرورة لفهم تاريخه الحديث او القديم. فكرة الغرب المسبقة إذاً عن الشرق الاوسط ليست بالشئ الجديد. (بالطبع هناك أفكار مسبقة للشرق عن الغرب).

من هذه الافكار المسبقة الخاطئة ان الاسلام هو ديانة الصحراء اليابسة التي لا تتغّير ولا مجال مطلقا للفصل بين الدين والدولة, وان الشرق الاوسط هو بؤرة للارهاب.

في مجال دراستي حالياً حول موضوع "الشرق الاوسط في السياسة الامريكية" أتناول التأثيرلت السلبية في دراسات المحللين والعلمانيين والمدنيين عامة في الولايات المتحدة, واعتقادهم الخاطئ إن الشرق الاوسط عاص عن التغيير.إذ أنه إذا كان هذا التحليل صحيحاً فلا يكون هناك اي أمل في إزالة او حل أي عقبة لمشاكل المنطقة. على كل من يريد معالجة سياسة الشرق الاوسط إذاً الابتعاد عن هذه الافتراضات السيئة.

ألخطاء الثاني: التشديد المفرط على العرق والهوية المذهبية. إن العديد من المحللين السياسيين في الشرق الاوسط يتجاهلون هذا التشديد ولا يرونه إلا من منظار مبدئي ضيق. فهم يركزون على الدين والعرق ويتناسون عوامل كثيرة اخرى. وهذا ما يوءدي إلى إبعاد البحث عن امور وعوامل مهمة تؤثّر على السياسة والمجتمع الشرق أوسطي. وتعطي فكرة ان الشرق الاوسط خصوصاً الدول الاسلامية وكأنها ملتزمة بهوية خاصة وهي الاسلام وبالتالي هويات ملحقة بها كالعرق والقبيلة.

هذا هو الاعتقاد السائد في الاعلام, ويعطي إنطباعاً ان المسلمين في الشرق الاوسط هم ليسوا وطنيين ولا هوية لهم, ونتيجة ذلك انهم يحتاجون الى حكم سلطوي للابقاء على كل الفئات المصطنعة. إن هذا النوع من التصوّر يعطي فكرة سلبية خاطئة عن الشرق الاوسط وكأنه انظمة طائفية وعرقية تسيطر على الوضع السياسي والاجتماعي. واذا كان الوضع كذلك فالذين من جنسيات واديان مختلفة لا يمكنهم العيش معاً وبسلام. ألنتيجة الحتمية إذاً الشرق الاوسط مكان خطير والصراع فيه لا مفر دائم.

هذا الموضوع هو ايضاً دائم الحضور في الاعلام ففي شهر كانون الثاني سنة 2009 كان البارز في الصحافة "الانشقاقات الطائفية والثوار يهددون بعدم إمكانية إجراء إنتخابات عادلة في مقاطعة ديالي العراقية" وأُبلغنا أنّ الصراع الطائفي الذي طال امده في ديالي اكثر من ايّ مقاطعة أخرى في العراق حيث صُورت في الاعلام كانها صورة مصغرة عن وضع العراق ككل. إن السنة و الشيعة والاكراد والعرب فلاحين ومتعلمين يعيشون بشراكة وأمان, إذاً ما تتناقله الصحافة من صراع وخلافات هو صورة مشوهة عن الوضع الحقيقي. تعتيم الصحافة عن الوضع المتحسن والسليم وان الاحزاب تحصل على إيرادات ووظائف ومساعدات وعقود عمل تحفزها إلى الدخول في كوادر الوطن. فالوضع في ديالي ليس سببه عدم وجود الوظائف والخدمات و هذا كله مؤمن إنما التعتيم عليه يزيد الشرخ بين المناهضين للامركة والمؤيدين للكائفية والمذهبية.

يبقى أنّ للقارئ الحكم ومعرفة الاسباب الحقيقية للعنف. ولذلك نرى أنّ المجتمعات المقسمة طائفياً ومذهبياً وعرقياً تولد بعض العنف بينما أخرى تبقى سليمة.

واذا كان العراقيون يميلون ألى العنف بسبب الخلافات المذهبية فكيف نفسّر وضعية نسبة 25% من الزواجات المختلطة بين هذه الطوائف؟

الاعتقاد أنّ النظام الطائفي يوّلد الارهاب هو خاطئ والاّ تكون النتيجة إنّ التغيير في العراق والبلاد الاسلامية في الشرق الاوسط غير ممكن.

ألخطاء الثالث: فكرة التفكير الجماعي.

عندما يأتي أحد المحللين السياسيين من العراق او مصر او ايران او اي بلد إسلامي اخر في الشرق الاوسط إلى الولايات المتحدة الامريكية ويتعرف او يحلل دين ولون وعرق إنساناً امريكياً فهل يمكنه معرفة ايديولوجيته واعتقاده السياسي؟ الوضع ليس مختلفاً بالنسبة لمحللي سياسة الشرق الاوسط, فالذين يبنون تحليلاتهم على الوضع اجتماعي لاحد الزعماء السياسيين, يستخلصون مسبقاً ان تصرفاته يجب ان تكون مطابقة لتصرفات كل أبناء عرقه ودينه وإنتمائه الاسري والقبلي. ما يعرضه هذا الانموذج كما في كتاب "الفكر العربي" يتناسى أنّ الفروقات العرقية والقبلية تخف بالخبرة الحياتية والعمر والثقافة والمهنة ومنطقة السلالة وغيرها وتتجه نحو إنتماء سياسي ايديولوجي. فلا يعقل ان يقاس جميع الناس بمقياس واحد. ولا يجوز ان يكون التفكير الامريكي هكذا.

خلال محاضرة للكاتب النيويوركي سيمور هرش في جامعة رتجرز في شهر تشرين الاول سنة 2005 اشار الى ان الاكراد هم "محتلو ارض" و العرب السنة هم "ارهابيون" والشيعة العرب هم"مسلمون مذهبيون متزمتون" واكّد ان لا شيء جيّد حصل من سقوط نظام صدام حسين. وجّه هرش إتهاماته إلى العراقيين الذين وقفوا الى جانب ادارة جورج بوش متجاهلاً التضحيات التي قام بها العديد من العراقيين الديموقراطيين.

الخطاء الرابع: التركيز على النخبة.

واضح أن النخبة السياسية هي في المركز الرئيسي في سياسة كل بلد. ولكن كما رأينا في انتخابات باراك اوباما, ان التحركات الشعبية لعبت دوراً هاماً في السياسة.

الثورة الامركية والفرنسية, وثورة اللاعنف التي قام بها غاندي ضد الاحتلال في الهند, واسقاط شاه ايران, وانهاء خالة التمييز العنصري في جنوب افريقيا, وتطورات سياسية اخرى كثيرة لم تكن لتحصل لولا التحرك والدعم الشعبي.

خلال الهجوم الاسرائيلي الاخير على غزة الصحافة العالمية لم تعطِ صورة حقيقية عن الاضربات في داخل اسرائيل نفسها والمناهضة للحكومة. حيث نلاحظ الاخفاق في تغطية التحركات الشعبية وإخفاء دورها عن سياسة المنطقة.

الرأي العام الذي غالباً ما يكون يتناقض مع تصرفات النخبة هو في العادة مستثنى من التحليل. لذلك التركيز فقط على النخبة يؤدي الى مفهوم متناقض لسياسة الشرق الاوسط. لأن النخبة تريد أن ترى مفهوم سياسي مختلف للذين يعارضون تصورهم وموقعهم السياسي.

هناك عدة استطلاعات شعبية تبّين أن اسرائيل تحارب الطائفية. 92% من استطلاعات الرأي العراقي اجابو بالنفي لما سؤلوا في اذار سنة2008 على "بي بي سي" هل تعتقد ان فصل الشعب في المناطق المختلطة طائفياً, وان ليس لهم ارتباط وثيق بالطائفة. والدليل على ذلك هو تدني نسبة الحضور الى المساجد.

النخبة التي تستغل الطائفية تعمل على تحريك السياسة لصالح مأربها الشخصية. في حين ان المواطنين يرفضون هذه السياسة لأنها تؤثّر على حياتهم العادية.

الخطاء الخامس: أسطورة التطرف الاسلامي.

ترى الصحافة الغربية ان التطرف الاسلامي إنما هي في صميم الشرق الاوسط إن لم تكن في كل مشاكله. سوف اعرض لاحقاً لدراسة هذا الموضوع مفصلاً اما الآن,

اوأكد ان فكرة التطرف الاسلامي ليست إلا مجرد اسطورة تبدأ باظهار ان كل الذين يدعون التطرف الاسلامي لا يعرفون شيئً عن العقيدة أو القوانين الشرعية. إختبرت هذا الامر عندما كنت في مصر منذ سنوات واجريت بحثاً علمياً عن واقع الاخوان المسلمين وتبين لي ان الاخوان الذين اوقفوا في المحاكم لارتكابهم اعمال ارهابية, كانت ثقافتهم متدينة ومحدودة جداً واجوبتهم للقضاء سطحية للغاية مما يظهر وبوضوح جهلهم التام للعقيدة والشرع, ولم يكن لديهم اي دليل او اثبات يرتكز على معرفة نصوص الدين, كل ما يعرفونه ان اعمالهم جاءت بحسب تعاليم الاسلام.

نكتفي الان باقامة مقارنة بين الاسلاميين المتطرفين وبين اعضاء "كو كلكس كلان" هذه المنظمة التي ارهبت الافارقة الامركيين باسم المسيحية, وهي لا تمت الى الدين المسيحي بصلة لا من قريب ولا من بعيد, والمسيحية ترفضها رفضاً قاطعاً.

بالمقابل الاسلاميون المتطرفون لايستحقون ان يدعوا كذلك لأن لا ثقافة ولا معرفة لهم بالاسلام, إنهم يقررون ثقافتهم بحسب ظروفهم الشخصية, ويصنعون ديانة خاصة بهم لا علاقة لها بالاسلام. حيث يكون لديهم برنامج سياسي مرتبط احياناً بالوضع الاقتصادي ومسيس إسلامياً بما يخدم اهدافهم ومصالحهم.

على سبيل المثال لا الحصر, وبعكس ما تحدده الصحافة الغربية, الجهاد بالنسبة للمسلم الحقيقي هو إجهاد النفس, والصلاة, وعمل الخير, والنهي عن المنكر للوصول إلى الله, وليس بالاعمال العنفية بل باحقاق الحق والدفاع عن حقوق الناس مسلمين وغير مسلمين.

الخطاء السادس: رؤية سياسة الشرق الاوسط بمنظار ثنائي.

إن النظرة الخاطئة هي ان تُرى الاحداث في الشرق الاوسط باللونين الابيض والاسود فقط. من الملاحظ ان اخطاءً كثيرة ارتكبها جيش المهدي في العراق بين سنة 2003و2007 بعدما فقد الكثير من قوته, ولكنه بقي وما زال يقدّم اكثر الخدمات الاجتماعية, فجيش المهدي هو الذي يؤمن العمل, والتأمين الصحي, والتعليم, وتوفير الامن وليس الحكومة المركزية, ما يجعلنا ندرك ضرورة التمييز بين جماعاته المسلحة والتي ارتكبت اعمال مشبوهة كالتطهير العرقي والمجازر و بين الفصائل التي تؤمن الخدمات الاجتماعية وتوفير المساعدات للشعوب الفقيرة المحتاجة.

إن مجلس الشورى الايراني الذي يترأسه اَية الله علي خامنئي والرئيس الايراني محمود احمدي نجاد يكوّن مجموعة من السياسيين الغير مرغوب بهم. عدداً وفيراً من إستطلاعات الرأي العام تثبت ان الارانيين باغلبيتهم يؤيدون الدمقراطية وبشدة خاصة المثقفين من الطبقة الوسطى. وبالفعل في اواخر سنة 1990 نال الاصلاحيون عدداً كبيراً من المقاعد في البرلمان الايراني وفي مجالس البلديات والتي حافظوا عليها لغاية سنة 2004 حين سيطر عليها مجلس الشورى وتضاعفت قوة المحافظين.

انتخاب الرئيس الاصلاحي محمد خاتمي سنة 1997 هو دليل اَخر يظهر ان قسماً كبيراً من المجتمع الايراني يتطلّع للتغيير الديمقراطي والاصلاح.

مرة اخرى ان النظر إلى ايران من منظار محور الشر كما صوّرها الرئيس السابق جورج بوش في خطابه في كانون الثاني سنة 2002 والموجه للامة يدل على فكر مزدوج ما يعطّل فهم المجتمع وامكانية تغيير إيجابي.

الخطاء السابع: عدم فهم تاريخ, ولغة, وثقافة المنطقة.

سنة 1961 أصدر "ديك غرغوري" الكوميدي والناشط الكوميدي المعروف البومه الشهير"ديك غرغوري المعيوش بالابيض والاسود" معتمداً على إنجازه في احد نوادي شيكاغو. فذكر عبارته الشهيرة قائلاً: "أليس من المضحك ان يكرهنا غربتشيف نفسه وليس مترجمه"؟ فكيف يمكن للصحافيين والمحللين الاكادميين الذين يتناولون سياسة الشرق الاوسط ان يقدموا معلموات صحيحة للغرب وهم لا يعرفون اللغة, ولا التاريخ, ولا ثقافة المنطقة.

في مقالة للنيويورك تايمز نهار الاحد تاريخ 25 كانون الثاني 2009 عنوانها "ثورة الفيس بوك" لسمنتا شابيرو تعرض كيف ان الفيس بوك في الانترنت يحفّز الشباب سياسياً لانتقاد الحكومة وخداعها في موضوع المراقبة وتأثيرها في عملها ضد حركات المعارضة ومنها الاخوان المسلمين. والكاتبة تعتمد على معلومات قدمها لها احد المصريين وهي لا تعرف اللغة العربية, وقد اعتمدت على مترجم للتخاطب مع المصريين الذين يعارضون حكم الرئيس مبارك. لا ندري كيف يمكنها الاعتماد على صدقية المترجمين للحصول على معلومات صحيحة؟ هل هي فعلاً حصلت على معلومات موثوق بها؟ أو ان هذه المعلومات هي وجهة نظر المترجم والمخبر؟.

أنا لا اقترح على الذين لا يعرفون لغة البلاد ان ينكفئوا عن نقل الاخبار والاوضاع السياسية. فأريك رولو مثلاً صحافي متمرّس عاش في منطقة الشرق الاوسط اكثر من ثلاثين سنة مراسلاً لمجلة اللومند, وهو يتكلم اللغة العربية وبطلاقة. هل من المعقول ان نعيّن رئيس مكتب تحرير يقيم في واشنطن دي سي ليكون مراسلاً لمجلة إيرانية اساسية او لبلاد عربية او تركيا او إسرائيل إذا لم يكن يتكلم اللغة الانكليزية؟

السؤال الذي يطرح نفسه هو لماذا مجلة او صحيفة على مستوىً رفيع من الاهمية لا تحاول تعيين مراسلين يتكلمون وبطلاقة لغة البلد مثل جان بارنز ونيل مكفاركوار في النيويرك تايمز. وصحيفة واشنطن بوسط التي تستخدم الصحافي المخضرم أنطوني شديد. هؤلاء فقط لاعطاء بعض الامثلة.

الخطاء الثامن: الفشل في عدم الاخذ بوضع الاقتصاد السياسي.

على الرغم من عدم وجود نماذج ثراء كثيرة بسبب اموال البترول في الشرق الاوسط (عملياً العديد من القادة السياسيين في ايران وفي الدول العربية المنتجة للنفط لديهم المال الوفير) يبقى ان الفقر المدقع والبطالة مستشرين في المنطقة, ونسبة الشباب تحت سن 25 تزيد على 60% في دول مثل العراق وايران ويوجد نسبة عالية جداً منهم عاطلون عن العمل او يعملون بمراتب زهيدة. بعض الصحف تداولت هذا الموضوع ولكن القليل منها بحثت في توفير شروط حلول الامن السياسي في الشرق الاوسط.

الخطاء التاسع: الفشل في معالجة التأثيرات الخارجية والداخلية لسياسة المنطقة.

النموذج السياسي المهم يقضي ان مؤشرات الديموقراطية ترتفع بشكل ملموس مع وجود بعض المتغيرات ومن ضمنها حروب المناطق, وارتفاع سعر البترول. فالاستقرار السياسي في لبنان مرهون بالوضع الاقليمي, والصراعات الداخلية بين الفئات السياسية المختلفة. لا احد يجهل انه اذا سوريا, اسرائيل, ايران, السعودية او الولايات المتحدة لعبوا دوراً ايجابياً في لبنان او عكفوا عن التدخل في اموره السياسية فسوف ينعم لبنان بالاستقرار السياسي و يتجه نحو الديموقراطية.

هذا النوع من الجدل لا يعطي الذريعة لمواطني الشرق الاوسط ان يلقوا خلافاتهم كلها على التدخل الخارجي. مع العلم ان الاستعمار كان له الاثر السلبي خلال القرن العشرين. فالذين يضعون اللوم على العراق في الاعوام الخمسة الماضية منذ سنة 2003 فليتذكروا ان كل جيران العراق من سوريا الى ايران فالسعودية فتركيا وحتى الاردن لا يريدون ان يروا العراق مستقراً وديموقراطياً لان هذا يؤثر على كون نظام الحكم في بلادهم سلطوي. لذلك كل هذه البلدان لعبت ادواراً وتدخلات سلبية في سياسة العراق منذ سنة 2003

الخطاء العاشر: لماذا لا يحبوننا؟

ألاعتقاد السائد لدى العديد من الامركيين بما فيهم المحللين السياسيين ان شعوب الشرق الاوسط وشعوب العالم الثالث يلزمهم اعتماد بعض المبادئ والقيم الغربية في انظمتهم لكي يصبحوا من الشعوب المتقدمة ويحصلوا على الديمقراطية الفعلية.

تبعاً لذلك فان الغربيين يقبلون بالمبدئ الذي طرحه "تومس فريدمن" وهو ان العالم مسطح. وان هذا الطرح يفرضه الامر الواقع. ويعني ان العالم ليس مسطحاً فقط بل يجب ان يكون مسطحاً. بمعنى اَخر يجب على الشرق ان يتأقلم مع تقنية الغرب ومعرفته. فالهنود الذين ملؤوا المكاتب والمراكز الغربية بالمعرفة والتكنولوجيا فقدوا وظائفهم بسبب الازمة الاقتصادية. إذ كان الاحرى بهم وبشعوب الشرق الاوسط وشعوب العالم الثالث الا يعتمدوا كثيراً على الغرب في حل مشاكلهم. يظهر ان فريدمن نسي الدور المهم والدقيق الذي لعبته الحكومة الهندية سنة 1966 تفرضها الضرائب وسنها القوانين لتمكين البلاد من بناء معرفة علمية ومؤسساتية للتكنولوجيا وعلم الكومبيوتر.

فيما يتعلق بالعراق سوف اعالج في كتابي القادم "الديموقراطية الحقيقية في العراق" موضوع " المعرفة الفطرية" ولي في ذلك امثلة كثيرة إستنبطها العراقيون واستعملوها لبناء مؤسسات اجتماعية ومجتمع مدني لنشر الديموقراطية. لا ننكر ان هناك ثقافة عالمية صادرة ومنتشرة في الغرب, ولكن نحن هنا في الغرب يجب ان نفهم ونتقّبل العادات الايجابية للشعب الشرق اوسطي, وامكانياته في تقرير مصيره دون تدخّل في شؤونه الداخلية والذاتية, وبالتالي لا نفرض عليهم ان يكونوا مثلنا.

في المستقبل ايضاً سوف اعالج موضوع انتخابات المحافظات العراقية, والعلاقة بين الاسلام والسياسة في الشرق الاوسط.

ترجمة: المحامي جان سويد

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Arabic Edition of Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq

اريك دافيس:
العراق، الكثير من السلطة والقليل من الذاكرة

جورج جحا

بيروت 18 مارس آذار (رويترز) - يطرح اريك دافيس استاذ العلوم السياسية ومدير مركز دراسات الشرق الاوسط في جامعة رتجرز في كاليفورنيا في كتابه عن العراق الحديث ما يسميه مسألة العلاقة بين سلطة الدولة والذاكرة التاريخية.

ويرى الباحث الامريكي ان الذاكرة التاريخية في المجتمعات الديمقراطية تهدف الى تشجيع الاندماج الثقافي والمشاركة السياسية لا الى ما يسميه سعيا الى استعمال الماضي لتشويه سمعة الدول الاخرى وهو ما تسعى اليه دول من اجل تقوية سلطتها.

كتاب اريك دافيس حمل عنوان "مذكرات دولة .. السياسية والتاريخ والهوية الجماعية في العراق الحديث". وقد ترجم حاتم عبد الهادي الكتاب من الانجليزية الى العربية.

الكتاب الصقيل الغلاف الذي صدر عن المؤسسة العربية للدراسات والنشر جاء في 455 صفحة كبيرة القطع مع ملحق صور. اما محتويات الكتاب فقد جاءت عناوينها بعد الاهداء والمقدمة على الشكل التالي.. "تشكيل النخبة الثقافية العراقية والذاكرة التاريخية" و"النزعة الوطنية والذاكرة وانحدار الدولة الملكية" و"الذاكرة والنخبة الثقافية وتناقضات المجتمع المدني 1945- 1958" و"المحنة ثورة 14 يوليو تموز في 1958 والصراع على الذاكرة التاريخية" و"سطوع نجم ذاكرة الدولة 1968-1979" و"افول ذاكرة الدولة 1979-1990" و"ذاكرة الدولة وفنون المقاومة" و" ذاكرة دولة ام ذاكرة شعب؟" و"العراق بعد حرب الخليج" فضلا عن "خاتمة" وملحق ميثاق 91".

يعتمد دافيس الفكرة التي تقول ان الذاكرة التاريخية يمكن التعريف بها على انها "التصورات الجماعية التي تشترك بها مجموعة بشرية معينة بصدد احداث وقعت في الماضي الذي يدرك على انه قد شكل هويتها ووضعها السياسي والثقافي والاجتماعي والاقتصادي المعاصرين. ومع ان الذاكرة الجماعية والذاكرة الاجتماعية قد جرى استخدامهما بدلا من الذاكرة التاريخية الا ان المصطلح الاول يستدعي الافكار اليونجية (نسبة الى عالم النفس السويسري كارل جوستاف يونج) بصدد الشعور الجمعي الذي لا علاقة له بهذه الدراسة.

"بينما لا يوصل الثاني العمق التاريخي الذي سعت الدولة البعثية الى ايصاله في توظيفاتها السياسية للماضي... وعلى الرغم من احياء الدولة البعثية لذكرى الاحداث المعاصرة نسبيا مثل... الحرب العربية الاسرائيلية في 1948 و"ثورتها" في 17-30 تموز يوليو 1968 غير ان هذه الدولة قد ركزت بشكل اساسي على حقبة ما قبل الحداثة وخصوصا فترة الامبراطورية العباسية وحضارة بلاد ما بين النهرين القديمة والمجتمع العربي في العصر الجاهلي او في حقبة ما قبل الاسلام."

ويزعم دافيس ان السبب الاخر الذي "لا يمكن معه رد الذاكرة التاريخية لا الى الذاكرة الجماعية ولا الى الذاكرة الاجتماعية.. يعود الى انها مكون عضوي من مكونات اي مشروع للهيمنة وينبغي ادراكها سياسيا."

ورأى ان "الذاكرة التاريخية الخاضعة لرقابة الدول" تختلف عن الذاكرة الاجتماعية "على نحو حاسم آخر.. ففي العادة يؤدي انتهاك الذاكرة الرسمية الى وقوع المواطنين الذين يرفضون اتباع خطى الاتجاه الرسمي... تحت طائلة العقوبات."

وفي رأيه ان المثقفين يلعبون "دورا رئيسيا في انتاج الذاكرة التاريخية الخاضعة لرقابة الدول ورعايتها إما من خلال انتاجهم الثقافي او من خلال تشفير الانتاج الثقافي القائم بالطرق المرغوبة سياسيا... ومن خلال العديد من الطرق الفاعلة يتكامل كل من الانتاج الثقافي وكتابة التاريخ الخاضعين للرقابة الرسمية مع استخدام الدولة للعنف حيث تسعى النخب المهيمنة عن طريق استغلالها لمحتوى الذاكرة التاريخية المسيسة الى منح الامتيازات لتلك الفئات التي تناصرها..."

وقال "لذا تستعمل النخب السياسية في الدول التسلطية الذاكرة التاريخية الخاضعة للرقابة الرسمية من اجل تعزيز مشاعر الارتياب ( بارانويا) والخوف المرضي من الاخرين وانعدام الثقة..."

وهو يرى انه "في المجتمع الديمقراطي تكون الذاكرة التاريخية مصممة للتشجيع على الاندماج الثقافي والمشاركة السياسية ولا يحتاج تأويل الدولة للماضي الى تشويه سمعة الدول الاخرى كي يسود..."

واستخلص الكاتب في ختام كتابه ان كل الدول تحتاج الى "قبول واذعان المحكومين لكي تحكم وتؤمن النظام العام. ومن الثابت ايضا ان الدولة تسيطر عليها النخب التي تسعى الى استغلالها لتعزيز سلطتها ووضعها السياسي والاقتصادي. وبما ان استعمال القوة لا يمثل وسيلة كفؤة للحكم فإن كل الدول تسعى الى ارساء الهيمنة والانخراط في ما افضل ان اسميه بالمشروع الهيمني."

وعنده ان هناك عدة دوافع لارساء الهيمنة اولها ان الدولة تسعى الى "تعميم مصالحها لتبدو وكأنها مصالح الشعب ايضا... واذا تمكن اولئك الذين يسيطرون على الدولة من اقناع عدد كبير من السكان بأن مصالح النخبة والجماهير متوافقة بعضها مع بعض فإن سياسات هذه الدولة ستكون مقبولة حينئذ على نطاق واسع..."

وتحدث عن دافع اخر من تلك الدوافع المختلفة وقال انه يرتبط بالاول هو "ان المشروع الهيمني يشتمل على محاولة الدولة لاقناع الاهالي بان توصيفها للمجتمع السياسي والصالح العام يشكلان الوضع الطبيعي للامور."

جورج جحا

Link to original review at Alefyaa here

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"10 Conceptual Sins" in Analyzing Middle East Politics (Arabic translation below)

Sin # 1: “Presentism.” Unfortunately, many of those who analyze Middle East politics, whether journalists, policy analysts, or academics, do not take history seriously. That is, they fail to situate Middle East politics in a historical context. If they did, they would gain many more insights into the political dynamics of the region.

Analysts would have realized why, for example, Iraqis showed little enthusiasm when American troops toppled Saddam Husayn’s regime in April 2003. This response did not indicate that Iraqis were ungrateful as the vast majority were relieved to see the end of Saddam’s regime. Rather, many Iraqis, who did have a historical consciousness, knew that the US had supported Saddam Husayn during the Iran Iraq War. Iraqis also remembered that, when President George Bush senior called upon them to rise up against Saddam Husayn in 1990, many took him at his word. However, not only did the US not intervene to help the rebels during the February-March 1991 uprising (Intifada), it gave permission for Iraqi helicopter gun ships to enter the fray which turned out to be critical in suppressing it.

When Donald Rumsfeld commented that the looting that occurred in Baghdad in April was 2003 was “part of the price” that Iraqis would have to pay for their freedom, while government ministries were stripped to the bone and the Iraq Museum, home of some of the world’s most priceless artifacts, lost much of its treasures to thieves, many Iraqis lost trust in joining forces with the Bush administration’s project to bring democracy to Iraq.

The sin of presentism is closely associated with the notion of the “eternal Middle East.” Since the Middle East never changes, there is little need to understand its history, modern or otherwise. The notion that the West still holds many stereotypes about the Middle East is not new. (And there are certainly plenty of stereotypes about the West in the Middle East - the topic of a future posting). These stereotypes include such erroneous ideas that Islam is a religion of the desert, that Middle Easterners tend to be excessively concerned with religion, that there is no separation of religion and the state in Muslim countries, that the Middle East is dominated by violence, and so on.
While the question of stereotypes of the Middle East constitutes a core component of a two volume study I am currently writing on the Middle East in American political culture, I am more concerned here with the negative impact it has on the thinking of policy analysts, and the lay public in general in the United States, that the Middle East can never change. If this were true, there would be little hope of solving any of the region’s problems. As I have tried to show in numerous writings, this is not the case. Thus I would make a plea for all who study Middle Eastern politics, and the Middle East generally, to question the assumptions that they bring to the process of analyzing the Middle East.

Sin # 2: Overemphasizing the ethnic and confessional identities, the “ethnoconfessional model.” All too many analysts of Middle East politics view the Middle East through a narrow set of conceptual eyeglasses. They focus on religion and ethnicity (and sometimes on tribe) to the exclusion of other variables. Not only does this model shift the focus away from a wide variety of important elements that affect politics and society in the Middle East, it creates the impression that Middle Easterners, particularly those in Muslim countries, are either loyal to supranational identities (particularly Islam), or sub-national identities (ethnic group or tribe). Such a mind set is obvious in book titles like Tribes with Flags that suggest that Muslims in the Middle East lack a national consciousness or identity. Consequently, Middle Easterners “need” authoritarian rulers to keep the various “artificial” nation-states of the region together.

This fetishizing of the ethnoconfessional model promotes a negative understanding of the Middle East by implying that sectarian identities predominate in political and social life. If those who live in ethnically and religiously divided countries of the Middle East cannot get along, then the natural outcome is violence and political instability. This, in turn, reinforces the stereotype of the Middle East as a violent and dangerous place.

This approach is pervasive in the media. In an January 2009 article entitled, “Sectarian Divisions and Insurgents Threaten a Fair Election in an Iraqi Province (Diyala), ” we are told, “Riven by sectarian violence that has lasted longer than in almost any other province in Iraq, Diyala is often described as a microcosm of the country: Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds and Arabs, farmers and professors. All live in lethal proximity (emphasis added). Yet the relationship between sectarianism and the journalist’s otherwise grim economic portrayal of Diyala and the ability of “incumbent” [i.e, those that claim to be “religious”] parties (that) can give patronage, jobs, award contracts and make use of government employee networks,” is not examined. Might not the strength of the Islamic State of Iraq, anti-Americanism, and sectarian identities that the article notes exist in Diyala not stem from the lack of jobs and services?

However, what is left to the reader’s imagination is why - when all ethnically divided societies experience hostile feelings among different groups at one time or another - some differences lead to violence while others do not? It is not at all obvious that hostility towards a member of a different ethnic group or religion automatically leads to violence. And if it does, what are the reasons? If Iraqis have some “genetic” proclivity towards ethnoconfessional conflict, why is there over 25% intermarriage among members of different ethnic and religious groups? If we are going to think of ethnoconfessional conflict in sociobiological terms, then obviously there can be no possibility for positive change in Iraq (or elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East).

Sin # 3: The idea of a "communal mind.” If a political scientist from Iraq, Egypt, Iran or any other Muslim country in the Middle East were to come to the United States and assert that, if s/he knew the ethnic, racial or religious background of an American, s/he could tell us what that person’s ideology and political beliefs were, Americans would find such a notion ludicrous, to say the least. Yet many analysts of Middle East politics base their assessments of the region’s political dynamics on the social background of the political leader or activist in question. They assume that an individual’s political behavior is determined by his or her ethnic, religious or tribal heritage. What this model, suggested by book titles such as The Arab Mind, ignores is the notion of “cross-cutting cleavages,” namely that gender, age, education, profession, life experiences and region of origin often mitigate the ability of one’s ethnic, religious, tribal or regional origin to completely dominate one’s ideology and political behavior. Once again, we find Middle East politics painted in broad, stereotypical brush strokes.

If this commentary is thought to be a critique of the conservative right in the United States, think again. During his lecture at Rutgers University in October 2005, New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh referred to Iraqi Kurds as “land grabbers,” Sunni Arabs as “terrorists,” and Shiite Arabs as “religious fanatics.” Loathe to admit that anything good had come of the toppling of Saddam Husayn’s regime, Hersh extended his criticism of the Bush administration in the first part of his lecture to the Iraqis themselves in the second half of his remarks, failing in the process to recognize the positive efforts of many Iraqis democrats, who did not support George Bush’s actions in their country.

Sin # 4: The excessive focus on elites. Political elites are obviously central to politics in all countries of the world. However, as the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has shown, mass movements likewise play a critical role in politics. The American and French revolutions, Gandhi’s organization of anti-colonial struggle in India, the toppling of the Shah in Iran, the ending of Apartheid in South Africa, and many other political developments, would not have occurred without popular or mass-based participation in politics. During the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, the Western media did not give any meaningful coverage to protests in Israel itself against government policy. Here, the failure to cover political activity at the mass level ends up ignoring the role of citizens in the politics of the region.

Public opinion, which is often at odds with elite behavior, is usually excluded from the “analytic mix.” Thus the focus on elites promotes a static and rigid understanding of Middle East politics, precisely because few elites want to see political change that invariably challenges their power and prerogatives. However, numerous public opinion polls have shown, for example, that Iraqis reject sectarianism, (e.g., 92% of Iraqis polled answered in the negative when asked in a March 2008 BBC poll: “Do you think the separation of people on sectarian lines is a good thing or a bad thing?”), and that they are not excessively concerned with religion, if mosque attendance is taken as an indicator. Further, while elites and “sectarian entrepreneurs” try and do manipulate politics for their own ends, citizens reject these policies because they usually have an adverse effect on their daily lives. That ordinary citizens can have positive views about the direction of social change does not factor in when elites become the be-all and end-all of political analysis.

Sin #5: The myth of "Islamic fundamentalism.” The notion of a radical Islam at the root of much if not all of the Middle East’s problems is pervasive in the Western media. I will soon upload a posting that will discuss this issue in greater detail. The idea that Islamic “fundamentalism” is a myth would begin by pointing out that most of those who claim to be pursuing a radical Islamist politics know little about Islamic theology and doctrine, or Islamic law (al-shari'a). I discovered this many years ago when I conducted research on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Brothers who went on trial for participating in alleged violent behavior knew very little about Islamic doctrine when questioned by a learned judge. While they would always argue that their actions were prescribed by “Islam,” they invariably were unable to support these assertions with textual sources when questioned by the judge.
A good analogy would be to compare radicals who claim to be acting in the name of Islam to members of the Ku Klux Klan (or other such radical organizations in the US). While Klan members have terrorized and lynched African-Americans in the name of “Christianity,” the overwhelming majority of Christians find such ideas abhorrent and reject the notion that they have anything to do with their religion.

Likewise, radical Islamists (and I would argue that they don’t even deserve to be dignified with the appellation “Islamist” given their lack of education and knowledge) make up doctrines as they go along. In addition to usually knowing very little about Islamic doctrine, they in effect create an “invented religion.” These radicals begin with a political agenda, often tied to economic goals, and then politicize Islam in ways that they hope will facilitate their behavior by giving it an aura of legitimacy. In the process they thoroughly distort Islamic doctrine. For example, contrary to the stereotype promoted by the Western media, the notion of jihad can be thought of as much as a serious effort by an individual Muslim to achieve closeness to God, through study, prayer and good deeds, as it can be thought of as linked to armed struggle. The notion of jihad in Islamic doctrine is always one of defense, not an doctrine of engaging in offensive actions against non-Muslims.

Sin #6: Seeing the Middle East politics through binary thinking. Another serious shortcoming of Western analyses of the Middle East is to view political events in either “black” or “white” terms. While we can be very critical of many actions of the so-called Mahdi Army (Jaysh al-Mahdi) between 2003 and 2007, when it lost much of its power, it was, and still is, one of the largest social service providers in Iraq. The fact that it, not the central government, provides a wide variety of social services, such as jobs, health care, education, and security, should make us realize the need to distinguish between its armed elements, who often engaged in despicable behavior, such as ethnic cleansing and criminality, and its social service providers, who have tried to help a population in need.

The Council of Guardians in Iran, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, constitute a set of unsavory political leaders, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, as many public opinion polls have demonstrated, Iranians by and large are very supportive of democracy, especially the educated middle classes. Indeed, during the late 1990s, reformers captured a large number of seats in the Iranian parliament, and in municipal councils, which they dominated until 2004 when the Council of Guardians cracked down on them and conservatives regained power. The election of reform-minded President Mohammad Khatemi in 1997 is another indicator that large segments of Iranian society seek reform and democratic change. Once again, only viewing Iran through the conceptual eyeglasses of “the Axis of Evil,” as former President George Bush characterized Iran (and Iraq and North Korea) in his January 2002 State of the Union address, points to the manner in which binary thinking can distort the understanding of a society and the possibilities for positive change.

Sin #7: Failure to learn the history, language and cultures of the region. In 1961 the well known African-American comedian and political activist, Dick Gregory, came out with his album, Dick Gregory in Living Black and White, based on a performance in a Chicago nightclub. One of the great lines in this skit goes as follows: “Wouldn’t it be funny if Khrushchev didn’t hate us, only his translator?” Gregory make a good point. How can journalists, policy analysts and academics who frequent the Middle East be sure that they are conveying solid information and analysis to audiences in the West if they do not know the language, history and culture of the region’s countries?
In an article in the January 25, 2009 article in The New York Times Sunday magazine, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,”Samantha Shapiro presents a fascinating and insightful analysis of how Facebook and the Internet are presenting opportunities for young Egyptians to mobilize politically and circumvent government censorship and the rigid hierarchy of traditional opposition parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the author relies upon an Egyptian to inform her what exactly is on Facebook in Egypt because she herself does not know Arabic. She also has to rely upon a translator to help her communicate with Egyptians who are challenging the Mubarak regime and do not speak English. How can she be sure that her informant and translators are sincere purveyors of quality information? Is she receiving an accurate accounting or are the informants selectively presenting information?

While I am not trying to suggest that those who do not know a country’s language should avoiding reporting on its political affairs, we can think of Eric Rouleau, who was for 30 years a special correspondent in many countries of the Middle East for Le Monde and who speaks fluent Arabic. Would we take seriously a correspondent who was bureau chief in Washington, DC, for a major daily newspaper in Iran, the Arab countries, Turkey, or Israel if s/he did not speak English? A question to ask is why major American newspapers do not make more of an effort to recruit reporters who know at least one of the languages of the region, such as New York Times reporters John Burns and Neil Macfarquhar, and Washington Post correspondent Anthony Shadid, just to give a few examples.

Sin #8: The failure to consider political economy. Despite the stereotype of the Middle East as awash with oil wealth (although political elites in Iran and Arab oil-producing countries do in fact have large amounts of funds at their disposal), there is great poverty and unemployment in the area. The percentage of young people under the age of 25 is as high as 60% in countries such as in Iraq and Iran, and a very large percentage of them are unemployed or underemployed. Numerous newspaper articles have commented on this problem, but few have analyzed what it implies for political stability in the Middle East.

Sin #9: Failure to account for exogenous influences and “neighborhood effects’” on the region’s politics. The Polity IV Model indicates that democracy score in Lebanon rises significantly when the variables “regional war” and “oil wealth” are factored into the analysis. This quantitative model confirms what all common sense analyses tell us, namely that Lebanon’s political stability is as much a function of outside interference in its politics as it is of internal conflict among contending political groups. No one would disagree that if Syria, Israel, Iran, the Saudis, and the United States would play more positive roles in Lebanese politics or desist from interfering all together, Lebanon would no doubt enjoy greater political stability and face an easier path in achieving greater democratization.
While this type of argument should not be allowed to let citizens of Middle Eastern countries blame all their woes on external actors and effects, there is no question that colonial interference in the region’s politics was a core determinant, largely negative, of much of the region’s politics during the 20th century. For those who lament Iraq’s inability to establish a stable democracy in the 5 years that have passed since 2003, let them remember that none of Iraq’s neighbors - not Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or even Jordan - want to see Iraq become a stable, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional democracy because of what such a development would imply for their own authoritarian and culturally intolerant political systems. Thus all these countries have played a negative role in post-2003 Iraqi politics in one way or another

Sin # 10: Why can’t they be like us? At the end of the day, many Americans, including most political analysts, still cling to the unspoken belief that the peoples of the Middle East and non-Western countries generally need to accept and internalize Western value systems if they are to truly modernize and implement “real “democracy.
Westerners accept the assumptions behind Thomas Friedman’s assertion that the “the world is flat.” Yet Friedman’s empirical assertion is simultaneously a normative admonition. In other words, the word is not only flat but should be flat, meaning it should conform to Western technology and scientific know-how. Aside from the problem that many of the Indians with technology skills who have populated the back offices of Western corporations in Bangalore have lost their jobs with the recent global recession, Indians, Middle Easterners and citizens of other non-Western countries would do well to not always ape the West. Friedman seems to forget the critical role in India’s technological development played by its government’s decision in 1966 and after to use tariff regulations and a variety of mechanisms to build its own domestic computer industry.

In Iraq, as I argue in my forthcoming book, Taking Democracy Seriously in Iraq, there are many examples of what I call “indigenous knowledge” that Iraqis have used to build civil society and promote democratization in Iraq. While there is indeed a global culture that derives most of its sustenance from the West, we in the West need to spend more time understanding and respecting the positive traditions, heritages, and abilities of Middle Easterners and non-Western peoples to control their own future without their needing to “to be like us.”
ترجمة: المحامي جان سويد

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The New Middle East: A Different Kind of Blog

It seems appropriate on a day when Barack Hussein Obama has been inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America, whose motto is "change we can believe in," and who has raised such hope about a new American role in the world, that I begin "The New Middle East." Having studied the Middle East for over 40 years, I am struck by how much the region's problems have grown but how little has changed in the way in which the region is portrayed in the news media and in scholarly analysis. Given the urgent need for solutions to these problems, many of us who have committed our lives to understanding the Middle East no longer feel that we can wait the months and years that is often takes to publish our research and analysis in articles and books. Blogs provide the opportunity to offer our perspectives to the public in an instantaneous fashion. Still, the question may arise: why the need for yet another blog on the Middle East?

The stakes in the Middle East are higher today, both for the peoples of the region and the West, than ever before. Rather than follow the pattern of most blogs on the Middle East (many of which are excellent), I propose to take a new tack. I will offer political and social analysis to be sure, but the main focus will be on those developments in the region that suggest ways in which its problems can be addressed. The New Middle East will also examine what I consider to be the biases, both conceptual and normative, in the West and the region itself, that are part of much analysis of the Middle East. Most postings will be in English, but I hope to offer at least some in Arabic as well.

It is significant that President Obama reached out to the Muslim world in his inaugural address when he stated, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Also interesting is that one of the first news organizations to post his speech was the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet (, indicating the anticipation that exists in the Middle East that Barack Obama's adminstration might actually help solve some of the region's problems. As CNN reported shortly after President Obama was sworn in, he expressed his determination to immediately begin to address the Middle East's problems. While tomorrow begins the hard work of Barack Obama's presidency, the spirit of his inaugural address calls for a new approach to the region's problems. Just as the cynics who argued that white voters would not pull the lever for an African-American candidate for president once in the ballot booth were wrong, so too are those who continue to argue that the Middle East's problems are intractable and must "be lived with." A good example is a recent Stratfor posting that characterized the crisis in Gaza, and the larger Israeli-Palestinian dispute as "intractable." Stratfor asserted that President Obama will, de rigeur, appoint the necessary Middle East envoy, but that this envoy will only go through the necessary motions and end up doing little or nothing to move the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians forward. It is precisely this type of cynical thinking and argumentation that reflects what is wrong with current approaches to the Middle East.

The number of serious crises in the Middle East is staggering. Iran pursuing nuclear weapons, war in Afghanistan, political instability in Pakistan - one of the region's nuclear powers, intensified political repression in Egypt, increased demands by Turkey's Kurds for equality, foreign interference in Lebanese politics, Iraq's struggle to establish a workable democracy, not to mention the patterns of conflict and violence that link Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, represent only some of the region's most pressing problems. If we add the problems of dramatic income inequality, the massive unemployment that faces much of the region's youth, and the lack of national education systems that promote the values of tolerance, pluralism, and critical thinking, we see that the Middle East, still the source of most of the world's hydrocarbon wealth, faces the potential for continued violence, radicalism and politcial instability. These considerations underscore that it no longer acceptable to simply "report the facts," whether in the media or in policy and academic publications. Those whose vocation it is to report on and analyze the Middle East owe their audiences much more.

Analysts, whether in the Middle East or the West, cannot by themselves bring about change. However, they can be more cognizant and reflective about the ways in which they analyze the Middle East. Journalists, policy analysts, academics and intellectuals generally have a tremendous impact on the manner in which political elites, aspiring political leaders, political activists and especially young people, understand the region. While those of us whose job it is to think about the Middle East cannot implement change, we can and do shape how the region and its problems are understood by those who can.

Tomorrow, my posting will offer what I consider to be the key failings of analyses of the Middle East. What I consider to be the "10 analytic sins" often distort more than clarify political and social developments in the region. Equally important, these analytic shortcomings cause many of us to frequently neglect important developments in the Middle East precisely because the conceptual eyeglasses through which we view the region prevent us from seeing them.

I welcome comments and encourage readers to visit my webpage for articles, commentaries, interviews, and media appearances on the Middle East: