According to many historians, the modern history of what later known as the (Middle East) started at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, when a French expeditionary force, commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Egypt. Another European state – Great Britain - forced the French to leave Egypt. A British squadron of the Royal Navy commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson replaced the French.
During the second decade of the 20th century, the West; driven by inexorable material greed and global domination, occupied militarily the entire heartlands of the Islamic world, carving up its territories and creating artificial nation states, meanwhile the well established tribalism was the dominant force in the entire Muslim world.
Though the war was fought in the name of liberty and justice for all peoples who were under repressive and corrupted Turkish rule, it was a colonial war. The states arbitrary created by British and French colonialism, were mainly to serve the economic interest of the west, and have nothing to do with the long awaited aspirations of the colonized eastern nations. The Kurds were denied forming their own state; Kurdistan was divided and annexed by force to the two newly created nation-states of Iraq and Syria. The greater part of Kurdistan left under Turkish domination meanwhile no changes introduced in the eastern part of Kurdistan under Iranian domination.
The Arabs were given a chance to show that they are “State builders”, but instead of bringing in democracy and justice, the political elites in the Arab world turned gradually into ultra repressive, cruel and corrupted rulers. The “states” which have been established are “totalitarians”. The Arab nationalism has produced the most cruel and monomaniac tyrants in the contemporary Arab history.
During the two past centuries significant lethargy can be observed by the peoples in shaping their destiny. The main changes were brought into these societies by foreign powers. The Turks were driven out of Egypt by the French; the French were ousted by the British. The British were replaced by the USA. The Nasser era 1952-1971, which marked the zenith of Arab nationalism faded gradually, mainly due to the accumulated defeats in the hands of Israel, and after the 1973 the American influence replaced the British and Russians influence. Very recently the regime of Saddam Hussein has been brought down by the USA and British forces.
During the last century, the USA foreign strategy varied from staying aloof from World conflicts to intervene militarily to save Europe from the Nazi threat, then to be involved globally to contain the Soviet expansion during the Cold War era. Throughout this period, the USA foreign strategy was openly pro non communist dictatorial regimes in the world, particularly in the Middle East region. The West encouraged Arab nationalism as well as Islamic faith to combat communism. All what was related to Human Rights, freedom of expression, democracy, liberty and social justice were brazenly neglected. The tyrants were armed and allowed to massacre people with impunity.
The dramatic collapse of the communist bloc, during the last decade of the 20th century, has led to a global strategic change. The relations with the increasingly unpopular Arab regimes have been altered, especially after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the attack of 11 September 2001. This new strategy has taken a decade to be crystallized. From 1991 up to the beginning of 2oo2, the USA threatened Iraq but hesitated to send its army to topple the regimes in Kabul and Baghdad.
Since the fall of Saddam’s regime, the call for “change” has become fashionable throughout the Arab world. The Arab regimes, the masses and the Americans each have his own vision of the “change”. Expectations were high; many were expecting waves of popular upheavals like those led to the collapse of the communist regimes. Unlike the Americans and the peoples, the Arab regimes have nothing to gain, but rather to lose. They did not reject the American demands, but put themselves as advocates of “change”. This cosmetic change means further consolidation of their grip on power, disguise of dictatorship, refinement of their repressive apparatus and creation of a veneer of a political plurality and democracy in their countries. The Americans and the peoples are well aware of all that.
The limits of democracy in the Middle East
The USA President to break away with the cold war strategy; criticized the traditional USA policy of the past decades, and that it is no more suitable for the new era. In a patent speech on Thursday 6, November, 2003, to justify the war against Saddam’s regime when he was under fire for mounting US troop’s casualties and for the widespread anti-Americanism among many Muslims, George W. Bush declared:
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty”.
He was implicitly plaintive, when he referred to Egypt, though President Hosni Mubarek a vital Middle East interlocutor for Washington since 1980:
“The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way towards peace in the Middle East and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East”. Bush said.
Let us see why this American strategy has limited credibility in Iraq and elsewhere.
The heavy weight of the past of the USA is still deeply influencing the thinking and the emotions of the Middle East nations. Meanwhile, many examples can be given on USA supporting repressive regimes and acting against democracy. There is no single example of USA establishing real democracy in the Middle East. The Kurds and the Shias remember well how they revolted in 1991 against Saddam’s regime and the USA forces let the revolt be crushed, which meant the survival of the dictator.
The Americans are lacking the necessary avenues to be in direct contact with the people and not through intermediaries. At the beginning of their arrival in Iraq and Kurdistan, they were willing to show their direct support for the population, which was immensely welcomed. But soon with the mounting Allies casualties, the Americans changed policy and began to look for an interlocutor.
As far as George W. Bush has chosen Iraq among 22 Arab countries, as a country to be democratized, he certainly knows that Iraq is a mosaic of peoples, languages, religions and cultures, with a conflicting and bloody history. The peoples must enjoy the right of referendum and must fully participate on shaping their future. The sentiments of being marginalized are high among the Kurds, Arabs and other ethnic communities.
If the Americans are going to leave the task of democratization and federalization of Iraq to the Governing Council (GC), it is a misleading hope. The Middle East region is a big laboratory of breeding false democracy.
Afghanistan is still not an oasis of democracy, the role of the notorious warlords in Afghanistan has not ended after the removal of Taliban from power in Kabul. Some of them are still controlling vast areas and imposing their own laws.
The unsettled Arab Israeli conflict and the imbalanced position of Washington in this crisis, diminish greatly the confidence on American role in the Middle East crisis.
An important segments of the Baath-Sunni population who are keen not to give up their privileges, are hostile and are leading operations against coalition forces. No real attempts were undertaken before the inception of the war to gain the Sunnis over to the anti Saddam camp.
The Allied forces in Iraq are not well prepared to fight urban guerrilla warfare. Their soldiers are easily ambushed and killed.
Pro Saddam’s elements and their collaborators, are convinced, that heavy casualties among the coalition forces in Iraq, will produce hostile political climate among the American people. In the next Presidential election - they hope - the Republicans will lose, thus before and after the election, a fundamental policy change towards Iraq will occur. These insurgents believe that the Americans will get tired too quickly and will be drawn to other preoccupations far from the internal affaires of Iraq, but Saddam’s capture has put an end to this wishful thinking.
The way the members of the Governing Council – a heteroclite body - were chosen and nominated, then the distribution of the ministerial posts flagrantly showed strong nepotism, recalling clanic and tribally constituted governments of the past. Mr. Paul Bremer did not oppose it. This left the hopes of peoples in Iraq, in Kurdistan, not matched by any real power or effectiveness on the ground, as the lamentable condition of peoples of the region after decades of suppression, fratricidal fighting and misleading propaganda, left them the weakest link of the body politic.
The laming argument is that, never mind it is a provisional government, it will change once the constitution is drafted and the general election carried out, bypassing the fact that, during this transitional period nepotism will consolidate itself. In oriental societies it is naïve to believe the opposite.
This was seen by many as clear evidence that the Americans are not seriously interested in paving the way for real democracy, as they did not reject this naked nepotistic nomination.
From the Kurdish people’s side, there are growing fears, that the Americans, when reconsidering Turkish position, may circumvent Kurdish aspirations. The Kurdish intellectuals, who are aware of the past tragedies and manipulations, have launched with great success, the idea of “Referendum” so that the Kurdish people can express themselves directly on Kurdistan’s status and not through the selected Kurdish members of the GC. The demand is in perfect accordance with UN charter.
Already the Kurds are discontent that the two main parties PDK and PUK were evasive in holding new parliamentarian elections; Kurdish people through secret ballot want to confirm what they want themselves. That is real democracy.
Kurdish fears increased after having signed the “Political Process” on the 15th November 2003 between the Iraqi GC and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). (1) what is more dangerous for democracy, is the falsification of democracy, falsification of federalism. A federalism blessed by neighboring states persecuting Kurds cannot be real one! Bremer, according to KurdishMedia.com, stands against the definition of Kurdistan territory. (2)
The Arabs suspect an imposition of unwanted figures as their representatives. Yet, there is no direct and active participation of people in shaping the future of the country.
George W. Bush’s declarations, just before Saddam’s arrest, indicated that he is ready like any other western politicians, to give his priorities to the presidential election, instead of values and principals on which he launched the war against the tyrannical regime of Saddam.
Indeed, security is not enough and democracy is not just about elections. Mr. Jamil Mroue – the publisher of the Daily Star in Beirut- told Paul Wolfowitz: “If America simply stressed security in Iraq, it would be no different than the authoritarian rulers who govern in the name of security throughout the Arab world. The missing ingredient was justice.” (3)
As far as the Americans and their allies are not giving priorities to the “free will” of the people, have not yet created the effective mechanism to reach people, the stability and peace in Iraq remain a distant goal. The lack of an attractive and living democratic example remains the most important element in people’s trust in the reliability of the American strategy.
The Kurdish factor in stabilizing and destabilizing the Middle East!
The strategic weight of Kurdistan territory is underlined by many writers, historians, and journalists including many Americans. Its population ranging from 35 to 40 million, they live in the four divided parts of Kurdistan under the rule of Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran.
Kurdistan’s territory is strategic in terms of oil, water, agricultural and geostrategy. The Kurds, unlike the Arabs and Turks, speak an Indo-European language. Owing to the repression and massacres mainly in Turkey and Iraq, the Kurdish Diaspora increased significantly during the last two decades, they form an organized and strong community in western European capitals.
Though the Kurdish old political parties still dominating Kurdish politics, there is strong feeling among the Kurdish people, that their method - dating back to Communist era – should change and give way to the rising new Kurdish intelligentsia.
During the last two decades, the Kurds have come into direct contact with the Western culture; the new Kurdish intelligentsia is developing rapidly abroad as well as at home, forming a new class of politicians, technocrats, scientists and are forming modern political, cultural and social organizations. A great hope for the future of the Kurdish nation predisposed to run the affairs of a modern state.
Certainly America, Europe and the international community, in their campaign against global terrorism cannot ignore the role of the Kurds and return to old politics, namely appeasing the states occupying Kurdistan and sacrifice the Kurds. In such a case, the risks are enormous for global peace. It is not difficult to push a deprived and frustrated nation into a terrorist mode.
The Kurdish people resisted colonization and partition during the past centuries, though the national consciousness was weak and tribalism was dominant. Now there is a great national awakening and strong attachment to the national identity, they clearly rejecting the return to the old days.
Any neutral observer will mention the “fact” that Iraq, which has been created by the British in the aftermath of World War I, has brought havoc to the Kurdish people and other communities. Being subjected to genocide will render the trust on the goodwill of politicians mostly impossible without strong international guarantees. Again Middle East is a laboratory full of betrayal of promises and violation of official agreements. Big promises, hugs between smiling leaders and are part of the political hypocrisy in the Middle East.
The colonial imposed heritage is not sacrosanct. The Iraqi state since its birth never functioned as even a diminutive civilized state; it developed steadily into a criminal and terrorist state. Now it is time that all peoples should be consulted. The essential element is the “welfare” of the peoples and not the protection of the colonially created Iraq.
Priorities must be given to long term solution for peace, economic prosperity and political stability, namely the option of a well organized referendum, where the Kurds, the Shias, Sunni Arabs and other communities will determine their fate. The natural option should be based on historical facts and the respect of natural ethnic lines.
If the result of referendum approved the division of Iraq, then the international community should recognize it. This means the peoples in Iraq have disapproved any return to the dreadful past. The emerging states can later on, form a confederation, if the political maturity prevails. All that cannot be achieved without the strong commitment of USA, Europe and the International community to protect and democratize the new states.
This will have great impact on Syria, Turkey and Iran to change their policy and opt towards democracy. The same applies to the entire Middle East countries. As it is evident, the Kurdish demographic extension stretches to Iran, Turkey and Syria, as well as the Arabs in the South and West of Iraq are linked to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.
However, the recent disintegration of Yugoslavia and communist bloc are good indications that the use of overwhelming force to keep an artificial state unified, will fail at the end.
The successful American strategy will be crystallized when it changes from regime support to people’s support. The American old politics is indeed the source of increasing enmity towards the USA. It is time for radical change.
(1) An article. ”The US and Iraqi Governing Council deny the Kurdish identity”. 17 November 2003. Kurdishmedia.com Editorial.