Swans Commentary » swans.com April 25, 2005  



What's Consociational Patriotism?
From Lebanon to Iraq


by Mohammed Ben Jelloun




(Swans - April 25, 2005)   Consociational patriotism is national power-sharing and national self-determination, simultaneously. In the case of Iraq, it is partly premised on a timetable for US evacuation with international guarantees for the withdrawal of all forms of foreign presence and partly premised on a politics of national unity and power-sharing for major, ethnic and confessional, communities in the country. It is premised on patriotic reconciliation between Kurds and Arabs in the first place. The reconciliation is comparable to the historical compromise in 1943 Lebanon, which united Christians and Muslims against their own drifting, Francophile and pan-Arab, respectively. Indeed, compared to well known historical consociational models (Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Northern Ireland, etc.), Lebanon's is a nearly unique experiment in patriotic consociationalism. Lebanon's is a typically colonial, anti-colonial and postcolonial consociationalism and therefore particularly telling in the case of Iraq.

Lebanon's 1943 National Pact was worked out by Christian and Muslim members of a "Resistance Government" in the Mountain. It was a direct consequence of the arrest by the French (November 10, 1943) of the Maronite President Bishara al-Khuri, the Sunni Prime Minister Riyad al-Sulh, and many ministers. By 1946 the last French troops had to leave the country.

The 1943 National Pact was a compromise solution stipulating that the Muslims of Lebanon would cease seeking to incorporate Lebanon in a single Arab or Syrian state and accept the existing geographical boundaries. In return, the Christians of Lebanon would cease looking to France for protection or seeking military pacts with Western powers. (Maybe future will show this historical compromise to have been to consociational patriotism what the Philadelphia Compromise has been to Hamiltonian federalism in 1787.)

The (unwritten) 1943 National Pact ratified so to speak Ottoman, pre-colonial, old inter-communal understanding and provided the new Lebanon's communitarian charter. The pact was built on confessional representation, accommodation and cooperation. Political positions, public offices and public funding decisions were to be allocated among confessional groups according to demographic and political weight. Parliamentary seats were to be allotted in proportion to the size of the various religious communities. It was agreed that Christians and Muslims would be represented in parliament according to a 6:5 population ratio. It was provided also that the future President of Lebanon would always be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the Parliament a Shi'i Muslim, and the Commander of the Army a Maronite. It was further agreed that, the President of the Republic "must insure equitable confessional representation" when appointing the Cabinet members.

What should be reminded here is that the confessional formula embodied in the National Pact of 1943 was worked out, by Maronite Bishara al-Khuri and Sunni Riyad al-Sulh, in the clear intention of establishing the unity needed to push out the French Mandatory power. For the same reason too, the distribution of power relatively in favor of the Christians must have been a concession by Muslim leaders. Indeed, while holding another opinion about the Lebanese demographic realities of 1930s and 1940s, only patriotism could have them approve of a distribution based on the 1932 census taken under the French mandate, which found that Christians exceeded non-Christians in a ratio of six to five. They wanted, historians say, "to keep the minds of Christians at rest" and "to allay their minoritarian fears of engulfment by the overall regional Muslim majority."



An Iraqi consociational patriotism is the compromise solution to the opposite, federal versus unitary, state projects for future Iraq; also, the compromise option against the opposite politics of Kurdish separatism and pan-Arabism in the region. It is the way to go for stopping the increasing Kurdish greed, on the one hand, and the Arabist cramp-like obstinacy, on the other hand.

The ongoing negotiations on a coalition government between the Shi'a-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UAI) and Kurdish parties (KA) have shown Kurdish intransigence and exorbitant enough greed, including claims to Iraqi presidency, borders and population reshaping, monopoly on oil resources, and access to own armed forces. It has been reported that, within days only after the election, 1.9 million Kurds -- almost half of all Kurdish adults in Iraq -- had signed a petition for independence. At the same time, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Masoud Barzani, made no secret of his expectations for "an independent Kurdish state." It seemed that part of a move toward a declaration of independence had to do with insuring control over the oil.

Also, separatist Kurds have no longer reasons to be afraid of a civil war that might erupt over secession or to be afraid that neighboring Turkey, Syria, and Iran will intervene to stop any Kurdish state formation. They feel their increasing support for the US military presence in Iraq will pay off, as pressure grows for Americans to leave the center and south of Iraq. They are anticipating support for an independent Kurdistan, as the price for the US to keep their troops, peacefully, in the north.

On the other hand, it is reported too that many Israeli and American intellectuals and officials are already busy preparing global public opinion, calling for an independent Kurdistan. At least two first class propagandists, ambassador Peter Galbraith, one of the negotiators of the Dayton accords, and former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, are indeed calling for a Kurdistan, a Sunni center and a Shi'i south.



Indeed, not only is the Kurdish loose and occupation-backed federal formula unacceptable, for many reasons, even "patriotic" versions of it are unworkable. Iraqi reality -- historical, demographic, urban, and economic -- stands against the geographic partitioning of federal solutions.

Degree of intermingling in population is enough to require for any sort of partitioning some sort of ethnic or confessional cleansing: In Baghdad there are as many Sunnis as Shi'is plus one million Kurds; in Kirkuk, as many Kurds as Arabs and as Turkemens; in the Shi'i southern Iraq, one million Sunnis -- not to speak of all mixed provinces and all mixed marriages. (Much of this reminds of the Palestinian-Israeli problematic population mix; the refugee problem, the settlers problem, Jerusalem problem, and so on.)

Likewise, degree of intermingling in interests is enough to cause obstacles to collectively benefiting exploitation and enough to impose impoverishment and social misery upon Iraqis, in case of a partition in natural resources and national wealth, notably those concentrated in north (Kirkuk) or south (Romaila and diverse oil fields).

Strictly federal formulas are unworkable because of their inflexible territorial cutting-ups. That is the case, whereas in consociational models borders need not be drawn in natural landscapes; consociational boundaries are worked up in quota terms and legislative performances, allotting "private" communal rights and "public" citizen rights. Hence in particular the superiority of the Lebanese confessional model for Iraq. (I think that, given the comparatively easier Iraqi predicaments, we have a stronger case here for experimenting the theorizing of late Edward Said on one, bi-national, bi-confessional, Palestinian-Israeli state.)

In any circumstances, a Lebanon-inspired Iraqi system would enjoy the benefit of being rooted in the region's history and tradition. It would be respectful of communal life; protective for ethnicities and belief groups; renouncing interference in internal affairs. (It can be tolerant too, accepting for religious as well as secular communities the right to self-representation and self-legislation on mutual respect basis.) The model would be definitely contrasting with American federalism; contrasting with American states-centered territorial divisions, as well as with American individuals-centered liberal history.

A Lebanon-inspired Iraqi constitution, including in-built balances and a parity system, is superior to any division into three more or less sovereign states. The three-part division mixes up things very different -- geography, ethnicity, belief -- and equates levels very distant, reducing belief resources and belief wealth into ethnic data, then used for stuffing territorial boxes. These cutting-ups reflect an unsophisticated and basically liberal pluralistic understanding of multiculturalism. Since it neither offers a meaning of its own, nor does it foster one by way of cultural polarizing and political agonism -- it is content with entertaining exoticism and political entrenchment. The infamous trio, by opening the door for insularism and separatism, undermines a ground for common commitment, a space for mutual engagement, and an arena invaluable from the point of view of innovative and "modernizing" encounter.



Sunni Arabs, one hears, know the Kurds supported the war and occupation of Iraq and have been a de facto US protectorate for more than a decade. As journalist P. Escobar put it, "Sunni Arabs also know that the only indigenous allies the Americans have at the moment are the Kurdish tribes: the Kurdish 36th Command Battalion, for instance, helped the marines to attack Sunni Arab Fallujah. Many Sunnis, even moderate, consider the Kurds traitors. What the Kurdish tribal chiefs really want is the ultimate prize: they want independence (it could even be some kind of US-Israeli protectorate) and they want Kirkuk's oil. All of this, for them, is non-negotiable." It should be added here that the political attitude of Sunni Arabs and the Sadrist movement only stirs this intransigence up.

In January 2004, thousands of followers of Shi'i hardliner Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Baghdad, Karbala, and Najaf to condemn the federal system for Iraq called for by the Kurds. For al-Sadr, the idea of partitioning Iraq into independent regions like in the United States is not acceptable. The Sunni Arab influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) too has rejected for a long time all sort of federalism talk, and so did even the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party. What most of us don't know yet is what they exactly think of or object to, not federalism per se, but consociationalism in general.

It is not enough to ask for a timetable for troop evacuation, as did the Sadrists, the AMS and the nationalists in their statement of February 15, 2005 (Paragraph I); it is not enough when the rest of the document is either silent or rejecting any talk of power-sharing. Acting this way only proves how rhetorical, for example, the AMS pretension was about welcoming any new elected government as legitimate, as long as it set up a definitive timetable for US withdrawal. (It has been reported that the AMS would have even issued a fatwa calling for the end of the resistance if the new government set a date for US withdrawal in writing -- with the United Nations as a watchdog.) To prove how serious they were, the document signers needed to state frankly and openly the power claims of their communities respectively; that is, instead of having the idea of "quotas" condemned and the one of individual citizenship absolutized.

Indeed, the homogenizing unitary state strategy proclaimed in Paragraph II and the rest of the document undoubtedly paves the way for different tyrannies in Iraq. It betrays the minority tyranny impulse of Sunni Arabs, of which the clan rule of Saddam in Iraq and the Assads in Syria have been notorious samples -- a more or less secularized façade is useful for a system of communitarian inclusion and exclusion, one that escapes constitutional regulation. Likewise it betrays the majority tyranny impulse of the Shi'a, one echoing Hezbollah's demands for "de-confessionalisation" in Lebanon -- to a Hezbollah that has secured its hegemony among nearly 50% of the population, one-person-one-vote "secular" strategy is the surest way to an Islamic republic in Lebanon.

The common platform of the Iraqi Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces expresses parallel ambitions, yet only conjectural and mutually excluding; it hardly conceals the signers' propensities for selfish sectarianism. Worse, it reveals forces converging basically on ethnic ground. Paragraph VI notably confirms a common Arab bias, as it, spontaneously I suppose, reclaims Iraq's Arab-Islamic cultural heritage, while it should be promoting the more obviously patriotic idea of Kurdish-Arab-Islamic identity. (Welcoming a Kurdish presidential appointment could be equally meaningful from the point of view of an Iraqi reconciliation.)



A consociational patriotic state; a state of civil peace and national independence, is premised on another compromise; namely, one between granting general patriotic-democratic citizenship and protecting the cultural autonomy of society's ethnic and confessional segments, should these communities be secular or theocratic. (Political scientist Arent Lijphart used the Netherlands case in the 1960s to develop his consociational democracy theory. The Netherlands was by then segmented in the three pillars of Calvinists, Catholics and seculars, and Lijphart argued that it was thanks to consociationalism that the country was politically stable, despite its segmentation.) This compromise on rights has the twice advantage of ensuring for the anti-occupation forces a strategic and enduring alliance, while neutralizing veto pressure by secular pro-Americans (such as among the Kurds) on the theocratic patriots, such as the Sharia law advocates among the UIA.

This is not advocacy for bigotry and confinement -- communal, sectarian, tribal, clan, etc. This is about dealing with communities as historically given forms and not as some metaphysical contents. More important is communal struggle and self-overcoming. Important too is diverting civil war potential towards patriotic competition and, hopefully, turning all antagonistic warriors into political agonists. Internal pressure insuring for citizens limits for decency (see J. Rawls) and minimal standards of respectfulness, on the one hand, and external pressure setting up criteria for commitments, duties and expectations in inter-communal relations, on the other hand, may create an important dynamism for communal "self-modernizing" and self-overcoming.



Lastly, while parliamentary, executive and economic quotas should stay open to negotiations and package deals between the main Iraqi communities, a quota of a no more or less than 50% for the Iraqi Shi'a may in fact promote cooperation with other political blocs and prevent majority tyranny. To be sure, Sunni Iraqis would be over-represented, but fewer so compared to Lebanon's Christians since the 50:50 agreement of 1989. (The Sunni 50% could be in turn equally parted along ethnic or belief lines; between Arabs and Kurds or Islamists and secularists.) This sort of quotas could be used immediately to determine the choice of troops, international or regional, to replace the occupation forces in a transitional period.

· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Iraq on Swans

Israel-Palestine on Swans


About the Author

Mohammed Ben Jelloun is Moroccan-Swedish. He is a former PhD student in political science (Stockholm University, Sweden), now affiliated to EHESS, Paris, France. His research interests include self-determination theory, US foreign policy discourse, and the prospects for an agonistic-consociational democracy in Iraq. Please visit his Web Site. In August 2004, Ben Jelloun contributed an essay on post Cold war nihilistic ironism and Straussian imposture, Wilsonian Or Straussian: Post-Cold War Idealism?



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Mohammed Ben Jelloun 2005. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


· · · · · ·


This Edition's Internal Links

Of UberCulture And The River - Phil Rockstroh

Cholera: Again, Genetic Or Cultural? - Milo Clark

The Art And Politics Of Film - Part III - Conversation between John Steppling & David Walsh

Making Meaning - Richard Macintosh

Deliberate Misstatements Of Anti-Semitism Are Counterproductive - Philip Greenspan

Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World - Book Review by Charles Marowitz

Days Of Decay In LA-LA Land - Short Story by Joe Davison

Open Letter to Howard Dean - Michael DeLang

Escape From The Petty Bourgeois Lifestyle - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

Blips #17 - From the Editor's desk

Letters to the Editor

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/jelloun2.html
Published April 25, 2005