You will hear it a lot during the coming days: “the quota system is the solution” for Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.
Iran has begun to promote the idea of this controversial political sectarian regime, so that it can pave the way for its interventions and influence on the decisions of these countries within its project to dominate the region. It is not a new idea – it is a duplicate of the Lebanese and Iraqi models that Iran dominates today.
Many Iranian officials tackled this issue; I even heard one of them giving more details about it. He said: “You want a solution in Syria? Why don’t we give all the communities and parties in Syria fixed quotas in governance; Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Christians, Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen, and thus Sunnis will have the parliamentary majority? We have to do the same thing in Yemen, and other countries in the region.” One of those who were sitting next to me hummed: “Ah, he means Bahrain”. Of course, we all know that he indirectly pointed to Bahrain, although we know that there is no war over the rule like in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, but there are hubs of protest in Bahrain that can emerge in any other country, including Iran itself.
After decades of practice, it is now obvious that the quota system is a lousy model of governance.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
As for the reason why we rush to reject the idea as long as it satisfies the majority of the troubled countries, it is because sectarian quotas are the basis and essence of chaos, although the case does not apply to Malaysia and the Netherlands because they live in different regional conditions.
The Taif Agreement
Some may argue and say that the Taif Agreement, which was signed in Saudi Arabia to end the Civil War in Lebanon, is the mother of quota systems. That gave the presidency of the republic to the Christians, the premiership to the Sunnis and the parliament presidency to the Shiites.
While the agreement was signed in the Saudi city of Taif, it was the outcome of a collective dialogue between the belligerent parties and was not a Saudi decision. Moreover, the quota system had always existed in the Lebanese regime that was present 50 years before the Taif Agreement, with the same presidencies’ restructuring but with different parliament seat quotas.
We should not forget that Taif was just a temporary project to stop the bleeding, and a passage to move to a better permanent regime. Hafez al-Assad’s regime disrupted the development of the Lebanese governance project: He oppressed the Lebanese state and controlled it through his local intelligence agents; he killed and marginalized all those whom dared to challenge him and thought of changing the political system.
A lousy model
After decades of practice, it is now obvious that the quota system is a lousy model of governance and should be avoided. If it were to be applied in Yemen tomorrow, it would divide Yemeni people forever, and external forces like Iran will use it to influence and mess up from the outside and will try to guide the decisions of Yemen.
What is the interest of Yemenis in the sharing of seats according to their religious belonging? Actually, there is none. The first idea on which was built the reconciliation, after the uprising of the Yemeni street, was that Yemenis decide whom shall govern them through the ballot box, but the amendments continued under the Houthis’ threats to be granted quotas in the government.
If we look at the quota system in Iraq, we find that the latter has become like Lebanon; the president of the republic is merely a decor. The three vice-presidents and three vice-prime ministers are also accessories claiming to represent the country’s ethnic and sectarian components. Even the prime minister, the first executive position, has become hostage of Iranian influence through the quota system tools. Similarly to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an Iraqi political team decided to build the ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’, a militia that controls the country, with the army a mere subdivision of it.
This is what Iran has sought to do in Yemen when it backed the ‘Ansar Allah’ Houthi militias, which took over the army weapon stores, and tried to amend the constitution granting itself fixed shares in the government, and for this purpose, it took President Hadi as a hostage in his home in Sanaa. This comedy stopped only when Saudi Arabia launched its war there.
According to the Iranian plan to manage several troubled Arab countries, the quota system was not supposed to pass under the pretext of being an alternative to the chaos, because it will lay the foundations of confusion for decades. It will fertilize the soil for long-term tensions and civil wars. There are alternative options, such as the adoption of a federal system, and the reduction of the central government without resorting to dividing society into sectarian and ethnic groups.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 4, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.