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There’s Still Hope for Democracy in Iraq, but Rushing into Elections Won’t Help

Feb. 27 2018

Iraq’s prospects of sustaining a democratic system of government have attracted much cynicism; nonetheless, argues Amir Taheri, the still-young regime is off to a promising start—even if its progress is threatened by Iranian meddling and by the disruption caused by Islamic State (IS). While some Iraqis have moved to postpone national elections, scheduled for May, both Tehran and Washington have urged against doing so. To Taheri, this is a mistake on the part of the U.S.:

Because Iraqi democracy is still young and fragile, every election in that country must be handled with extra care. . . . The four provinces that bore the brunt of the war against successive terrorist groups, the latest being IS, lack the infrastructure for proper campaigning, not to mention establishing voter registers, setting up polling stations, and ensuring adequate supervision of voting. . . .

Another problem concerns the presence of numerous armed groups of different religions, sects, and ethnic backgrounds in eight of the eighteen provinces. In some places, Mosul for example, unofficial control exercised by these groups in the absence of the regular army and government police could render campaigning, voting, and the counting of votes problematic. [To make matter worse], militias . . . believed to be controlled by Iran operate as political parties, [in violation of] Iraqi election law. . . .

[T]he most important argument in favor of postponement is the growing trend away from sectarian politics with the emphasis shifting away from ethnic and religious concepts to the all-inclusive concept of uruqa (Iraqi-ness). Encouraging moves in this direction are already under way, leading to hopes that a majority of Iraqi political parties and groups may be moving away from the sectarian system of sharing parliamentary seats introduced . . . after the fall of Saddam Hussein. However, such a process requires more time to produce lasting results. . . .

Contrary to what the Trump administration seems to think, U.S. interests are not best served by hastily held elections, the results of which may be contested by significant segments of Iraqi opinion. . . . A united and strong Iraq could emerge as a rival or even a threat to Iran. A democratic Iraq could become a tempting model for Iran, where Shiites also form a majority. A weak Iraq could become fertile ground for Arab Sunni armed groups dedicated to sectarian jihad.

Read more at Asharq Al-Awsat

More about: Arab democracy, Iran, Iraq, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

 

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah