Iraqi Elections: A step towards democracy or dedication of sectarianism?

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

On January 30, 2005, Iraq witnessed the first multiple elections in the country since five decades. Election which were the subject of sharp political debate, between those who view it as an important step to expedite the building of the new institutions in the country, looking forward towards ending occupation, and others who view believe they should boycott it because it was conducted under the umbrella of occupation. These views expressed themselves through declarations by some Iraqi political powers to boycott the elections at a time when the black terrorist groups in Iraq threatened to expand their operations in various regions to abort the election scene and scare citizens and discourage them from voting.

However, it was a big surprise when there was a wide participation of voters which far exceeded the participation of Arab citizens in elections conducted in some unoccupied Arab countries.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) paused at several signs of the Iraqi election scene during the intellectual meeting organized at Ibn Roshd salon titled “did most of the Iraqi people err again by participating in elections?.

Bahey El Din Hassan, director of CIHRS referred to the fact that different political circles positions regarding the Iraqi elections with their different views, analysis and inquiries around the reasonableness of conducting the elections under the occupation forces in Iraq, and whether it would have been better to wait until they left and there would be a good healthy environment to conduct real elections. He indicated there were contradicting estimations about them, not only about the expected results, but about the reasons behind the situation that led to boycotting elections and the terrorist environment existing in certain regions in Iraq.

He further indicated that despite all the circumstances surrounding the election process, participation of the Iraqi people reached approximately 60% among eligible voters. He stated that this rate represents an unprecedented direction in the Arab world regarding participation in elections, particularly when compared to similar ones in Arab countries such as Egypt, where participation in the latest Parliamentary elections did not exceed 10% in Cairo and Alexandria, the largest cities in Egypt, as reported by the Egyptian Human Development.

Challenging Terrorism
The Iraqi writer Salah El Nassrawi described the Iraqi Election Day as being a very important day, not only to Iraqis but also to the Arab region that should, in his view, take it as a model in terms of responsiveness and participation.

He asserted that the elections represent a step on the right path to build the democracy sought by the Iraqis, as a proof, 8 million Iraqis participated in the elections, in direct challenge of terrorism, and 40 Iraqis were killed on the Election Day, who paid their lives, a price for democracy and rebuilding their country.

He added that the elections restored dignity to the Iraqis as human beings who have rights, thus politicians should derive lessons from.

Nassrawi criticized some Arab writings that described elections and Iraqis’ participation as support to the occupation. He described the writings as being emotional, ignoring history and the Iraqi reality. He added that conducting elections under the occupation is not a defect, because many countries lived the same election process under occupation. Elections are not a goal in itself, but a means to a more important goal, to achieve real democracy. He expressed his belief that there are certain challenges that face the democratic structure in Iraq, primarily those of security, economic and political challenges and corruption. He referred to the bad economic situation in Iraq; the increased unemployment rate of over 70% among Iraqi people; and the spread of corruption either because of the last war or earlier wars of the old regime in Iraq. He added that the Iraqi government will face a dilemma if it does not face those challenges with a clear program that responds to the desires of voters, asserting, that the Iraqi society, despite all these challenges, is still holding up and following the right path towards achieving democracy.

A Memorable Day
In the same manner and even more optimistically, Hazem el Youssefy, representative of the Kurdistan national union in Cairo, because he was unable to attend, presented a paper to the salon. El Youssefy described January 30, 2005 as a memorable day in the contemporary Iraqi history, and stated that the Iraqis, with bare chests and fingers colored with purple ink faced the bullets of killers and terrorist car bombs, and bloody rivers threatened by Abu Mosaab El Zarkawi and his followers. This is the first elections for the Iraqis since more than half a century. The Iraqi people did not make a mistake by participating in it; in fact they were greatly successful.

He also asserted that there were no suspicions or allegations on the soundness of elections, except in a very limited range which did not have any impact on the results. One cannot overlook the imbalance resulting from the boycotting of some Sunna and some conservatives, who were classified in 3 groups as follows:

• Extremist Islamic groups who are connected to El Zarkawi group who refused out of democratic intellectual perspectives. Zarkawi had described in a letter prior to elections, his views on elections as being “deviation”; multiplicity as “alliance”; and the majority rule as “corruption”.
• Remains of Saddam’s rule who did not believe in elections or ballots or peaceful circulation of authority.
• Some political individuals and parties who refused elections because they were conducted under occupation.

Al Youssefy explained that in return, the Shiaa and Kurds participated in the elections, majority of which are Sunna, parties, individuals and Sunna personalities, therefore, it is not considered there was Sunna boycotting of the elections.

He further described what was mentioned about the illegality of the Iraqi elections that they are clamor and nonsense; that the Palestinian elections were boycotted by Hammas, Jihad, and other organizations, with a 44% participation rate and no one contested, whereas participation in the Iraqi elections at a minimum, reached 60% of eligible voters.

Elections on sectarian basis
Ahmed Bahaa El Din Shaaban, member of the popular campaign to support Iraq, offered several comments on the Iraqi elections, first, that George Bush, U.S. President is the one who insisted on conducting elections at the specified time, second, that it was conducted under occupation, although many preferred to postpone till circumstances were better. Third comment by Engineer Shaaban was that the Iraqi elections were basically founded on sectarian concept. The existence of a Shea block, a Sunna block, and a third Kurd block, refutes the concept and essence of democracy, which is based nationalism and establishing a political system across generations, sects and races. Shaaban stated that elections did not achieve any step toward democracy as much as placed a very huge block in the path towards democracy and the Iraqi national unity, because a real democratic society cannot be built relying on sects and races. Shaaban further expressed a surprise about what was described as the “Strange American Democracy” which establishes a state based on different variances, Arabs, Kurds, Shea, and Sunna, and although this is the pattern being offered to the region, it will lead to disintegration in the region. This arrangement is not good; it was presented earlier in the seventies in a book entitled “How Israel Plans”.

A fourth comment presented by Engineer Shaaban is that the Iraqi elections were conducted in the absence of 40% of the Iraqi eligible voters, estimated at 7 million Iraqi citizens. Elections also ran with the refusal of a large sector of Iraqis, which seriously threatens the establishment of a religious state. Spokesman of the Marge3ya Shea Ayat Allah Al-Sysstani announced that sticking to Islam is the only source of legislation in Iraq, and Shaaban expressed fears that the elections were offered to shatter the national unity of Iraqis, in what is said about the Kurds’ separation from Iraq.

He commented on the publication about allocating funds from American sources to support some election directions in Iraq, and directing voting in the elections. He stated that the American Democratic Institute’s declaration about allocating huge funds to conduct political and election activities in the after-Saddam Iraq was also declared by the International Republican Institute.

Engineer Shaaban expressed his fears that elections will be a door to naturalize relations with Israel, since the media mentions some information about the sneaking of huge numbers of Israelis to Iraq, particularly in the Kurds region. Another publication also mentioned the participation of Israelis in the elections.

In this respect, several questions were posed, whether the elections will lead to evacuation of the occupying forces from Iraq, or to consecrating its existence in it, and whether it will lead to unity of Iraq or to its shattering, whether it will soften conflicts in the Iraqi community or will increase it? He asserted that it is not imaginable that democracy will be achieved in the Arab region by America’s hands. The United States is not stupid to sponsor elections that will lead to strengthening its enemies’ forces.

Salah Eissa, Chief Editor of Cairo newspapers started his address by referring to the fact that it was the Systani Shea Marge3ya who insisted on conducting elections at the designated time and not the Americans who prefer to continue their direct military rule in Iraq.

Eissa added that the Iraqi elections formed a national organization to establish a Constitution for the country, which is a temporary entity scheduled to complete its task by the end of 2005. It will then elect 3 President and a Prime minister, and it will prepare a draft constitution with attached basic laws, which means that we are not in the presence of an elected entity or in the last elections. He indicated that elections created an entity which represents a group from the Iraqi people who can speak on its behalf, because since the occupation of Iraq, no one knows who speaks in the name of the Iraqi people.

He added that supposedly the participation of approximately half those listed in the election lists would bring about a result representative of the people to whom this group belongs. Egypt in the liberal period from 1923 to 1952 did not have a participation rate in election exceeding 42% of eligible voters. He added it is impossible to establish a religious state in Iraq, criticizing what was described as establishing a national Patriarchy in the Arab world that seeks to impose certain choices on the Arab nations under the name of nationalism. He added that this is against nationalism; the actions of the Arab are responsible for creating the refugees’ disaster in the Palestinian case. We must admit the Iraqi peoples’ right to select who to represent them. He refused the solemn concept of struggle; he considers the Egyptian vision in most analysis of what is going on in Iraq as an extension of the historical conflict on Iraq that started before and after the war. He asserted that we must believe that it is possible to liberate occupied lands through democracy, but the opposite is not necessarily true.

Sectarian Belonging
Bahey El Din Hassan indicated that approximately 111 political parties participated in the Iraqi elections, and more than 150 newspapers and T.V. stations provided media coverage for the elections.

Comments of attendees varied between assertions that the Iraqi elections represent a huge step, and warnings by other monitors against using these elections for sectarian divisions in Iraq.

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