Iraq today has an elected parliament. Ninety years ago, it also had an elected parliament. It is thus one of the oldest countries practicing modern democracy. Theoretically, societies’ awareness is supposed to develop with time.
However, this is not always the case. Iraq’s parliamentarians are currently looking into amending personal status law to legislate few matters such as allowing parents to marry off minor girls, as young as nine, and allowing tribes to resort to tribal customs. It’s pretty much not that different than ISIS’ ideology and practices!
The problem of implementing democracy in “simple” societies that are less developed and aware has become frequent. The parliament reflects the society’s situation and culture. Parliamentarians deal with democracy with its major concepts by implementing what the people want, i.e. they please voters and meet their demands.
The rate of awareness in the Iraqi society is simple and limited, like in most Arab countries, and it is dominated by old rural traditions and habits although Iraq is the homeland of great ancient civilizations as the new civilization arrived there since the beginnings of the past century.
Egypt too is the homeland of ancient civilizations and the first Middle Eastern country to respond to and comprehend modern industrial civilization; however, it suffers from situation similar to Iraq.
The higher judicial authority cannot intervene to prevent the parliament from imposing legislation that violate the principles of democracyAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The Arab Spring
After Hosni Mubarak was toppled, one of the “Arab Spring’s” results was the controversy between the victors about the concepts of democracy and liberalism that comes with it.
When the Muslim Brotherhood represented in Mohammed Mursi’s party attained power via elections, they sought to write a new constitution in agreement with other political powers. Since they won, they thought they have the right to dictate their vision of the proposed constitution under the excuse that they attained more votes.
They wanted to draft a constitution at the expense of minorities, like Copts and women, while marginalizing the principle of separation of powers by dominating the judiciary. This is a distorted concept of democracy.
The Iraqis are powerless before conservative, religious and tribal social powers who the constitution allows to engage in political work without laying out any limits to their authority when exploiting their influence during elections and while practicing parliamentarian or government work.
Religious powers, in particular, exploit their members’ sanctity and rhetoric to attack their rivals or to strengthen their influence to collect money in the name of religion or form armed militias while claiming this is their religious duty.
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Since the central authority is weak, it could not confront this segment as it wanted to avoid domestic strife. All it did was prevent armed religious political parties from running in the elections. However, these powers can maneuver by appointing whoever they want to manage their armed militias and run for elections.
The state though cannot prohibit those working in the religious field from engaging in political work, like it does with military figures, as more than half of Iraq’s political leaders belong to religious organizations and tribal gatherings.
The higher judicial authority also cannot intervene to prevent the parliament from imposing legislations that violate the principles of democracy and the Iraqis’ basic rights, whether they’re related to ethnic or religious minorities or to women or others.
Democracy suffers in backward societies. The current relative awareness failed in imposing itself by the elite. There are social segments that are well-educated and cultured but they are still a minority and they remain worried. Extremists exploited democracy to reach the same aims, which terrorists failed to achieve via the power of arms, through elections!
The irony here is that if the Iraqi parliament votes on amending the personal status law and allows marrying off children, Iraq will be put on the list of countries violating human rights while at the same time it will continue to be categorized as a democratic country only because its system and legislations are as such!
This article is also available in Arabic.
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. He tweets @aalrashed.