Sectarianism is stronger than corruption

Hazem al-Amin

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Which is stronger in our region, the bias of groups toward their sects or their interests? Sectarian leaders, who lead most of the political groups in the region, are largely corrupt individuals. The followers of the sect are aware of this fact, just as the nationalists are aware that their nationalist leaders are also corrupt.

The Shiite leaders in Iraq and Lebanon are corrupt, just as the Kurdish leaders are. In Syria, corruption is widespread among all the conflicting parties. Despite all this, these corrupt leaders represent the sectarian interests of their groups.

However, in the wake of what Iraq has been witnessing recently, can we say that civil groups have started to realize that those who represent their sectarian interests cannot represent their political interests, and that their management of the state was a disaster as seen in the post-Saddam era?

Corruption is not enough to overthrow a corrupt leader or party. Corruption has only made people angry. But once a sectarian enemy looms, the community feels deep fear – much worse than the fear of starvation

Hazem al-Amin

It’s probably too early to draw such a conclusion. It will upset many Iraqi friends who have seen a glimmer of hope in the Shiite citizens’ protest against the Shiite government. This hope is in the beginning of the phase to move away from religious parties that have governed Iraq since 2003 and that looted the country’s resources and deprived its citizens of their basic rights such as water, electricity, education and transportation – what to say of other amenities in a country with great oil wealth?!

Is corruption enough?

Corruption is not enough to overthrow a corrupt leader or party. Corruption has only made people angry. But once a sectarian enemy looms, the community feels deep fear – much worse than the fear of starvation.

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Demonstrations in southern Iraq were held at a time of absence of this enemy after defeating ISIS. However, reviving ISIS is very simple if the ruling religious parties in Iraq deem it necessary, in light of their vulnerabilities within their groups.

Corruption, the abuse of authority, the category of the newly rich and the manifestations which accompanied the rise of the new political category cannot affect people to take action as much as sectarianism does. This is a provocative fact but it is a fact, and it should be taken into consideration while forming our expectations regarding what’s happening in southern Iraqi.

In Lebanon, we witnessed a similar situation before the last parliamentary elections. People in the Bekaa expressed great indignation over the discrimination they faced on the extent of their representation in the state compared to the representation of Shiites in the south. Their areas are neglected at a time when the South is enjoying a larger share of projects.

The power of sectarianism

When people in the Bekaa expressed their distress, Hezbollah, specifically Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem, rudely said: “You have to go to the polls, as ISIS is at the doors.” They actually responded, and voted for Hezbollah like they’ve never voted before.

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In this region, we have not yet reached the level of maturity where groups can realize their interests outside the sectarian paradigm. It’s difficult to separate sectarian interests from those of citizens. Thus, sectarian support often surpasses state support for its citizens. In Iraq, members of the Popular Mobilization receive their salaries before the army soldiers do.

In Lebanon, the number of Hezbollah fighters and workers in various institutions, is equivalent or exceeds the number of Shiite employees in the Lebanese government, keeping in mind that to become a government employee, one must be part of his sect’s quota.

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There is public outrage, not a revolution in southern cities of Iraq. Corruption has become an image of the political class’s insolence. This class is not ashamed of its corruption. Hadi al-Amri issued an “apology” that implies an admission of guilt. Misha’an al-Juburi said that he himself received millions of dollars in bribes.

These confessions did not end in any resignation or prosecution, but those who made these confessions seemed to showing off by speaking out about their corruption. They did so because they are aware that they have a card that’s much more powerful than their scandals. They have a sectarian card that they can play to incite protests that are much larger than those held against corruption.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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