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In examining some political aspects of the ruling Kurdish political elite, who dominate the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), we answer few questions, such as, which form of elites they belong to? How the elite is reproduced? Is there any legitimate process of elite change? Is the alternating possible? Do they act in a legitimate way? What is the goal of the Kurdish political elite?

We cast a quick look at the Middle East ruling elites.

There are important similarities between the Kurdish political elite and its Middle Eastern counterpart. Some of these similarities are the elite’s corruption, hostility to the principal of democracy, authoritarian rule, no legitimate process of power transfer is allowed, no transparency and no accountability.

The circulation of elite and democracy are closely related to each other. In a democratic system, the circulation of elite passes through a legitimate and regular way. However, in the whole Middle East, the only state where elite alternation process is carried out in a democratic way, is the state of Israel. The other states of the Middle East, like Iran and Turkey, have their own specific process of elite change, while aging dictators or hereditary dynasties rule the majority of Arab states.
The only change in the Arable world has been brought by the deaths of the ruling elite heads: King Hussein of Jordan, King Hassan II of Morocco and Emir Isa of Bahrain in 1999, Hafiz al-Assad of Syria in 2000 and Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority in 2004. Meanwhile, favourite sons have replaced defunct fathers; the previous policy remains largely the same.

The Kurdish elite mobility is stagnant. There are two leading groups (KDP and PUK), identified as “core elites” who control other “sub-elites”. The function of the latter is largely symbolic.

The Kurdish "core-elite" dominates every aspect of life in Kurdistan. It crosses the entire social, economic and political stratum, horizontally and vertically. Generally, the political culture of the Kurdish political elite is characterized by rampant clannish, nepotism, individualism and feudalism.

What strikes the observer, when examining Kurdish (core-elite) of the KDP is its wide policy of intermarriage between the members of the core-elite. This policy reflects fear of future defection of its members, leading to the formation of a new rival elite.

Elite change after the death of the father, does not involve system change, but rather system reproduction, or its maintenance.

During such hereditary transfers of power, the fundamental rules of the game guarantee the power of the past and present of the core-elite. In other word, the reproduction of the old.

The Kurdish core-elite like its Arab counterpart, dominates large portion of foreign and internal commerce and business profitability. There are rich and poor areas in Kurdistan, according to the desire of the elites who have absolute power on the allocation of resources.

The political elites that took over Middle East countries in the 1960s, consider government as a source of power and personal enrichment.

The party and the parliament that the core-elite dominate have become an instrument to serve and further their personal interests. The role of the government is a complementary to the party: both are subordinated to the benefit of the ruling core-elites.

The elite’s repeated rhetoric of having adopted western values of democracy, supremacy of parliament, rule of law, judicial independence, free elections, Human Rights etc, are baseless slogans. These states have the worst Human Rights records.

The Kurdish elite, like its Arab counterpart, select new recruits in order to limit their influence to the lower echelon of the political system, thus safeguarding the regime’s survival and its ultimate decision-making circles.

Both, Kurdish and Arab elites try to face the increasing international pressure for changes, such as economic globalization and world competition. Internally, people demonstrate and demand freedom, democratic rights, social justice and better economic conditions. To face these challenges, the elites pay lip service to the west while strengthen the repressive instruments of the government to eradicate popular will.

Both elites have exploited the natural resources of their countries and then transferred profits, taxes and aid funds into their own foreign bank accounts. Both depend on brutal force for their survival.

Kurdish incumbent elite uses inclusion or exclusion policy, to designate whether or not groups are permitted to enter the formal political sphere. Kurdish Diaspora is largely excluded from participation in Kurdish political decisions. The incumbent elite, bribed, imprisoned tortured and assassinated opponents. Only when they come under fire do they expand the political sphere.

Both elites, for a long time, were the source of division of Kurdistan and the Kurdish people into two hostile administrations. Their alleged unity is primarily directed against the emergence of a new democratic movement.

In the Arab world , a dilemma persists among the people as to which strategy should be adopted for elites change? The Kurds confront the same dilemma. Though, in Kurdish society, there are signs of resistance and strong anti-submission feelings, but, it lacks the necessary strategy to turn the popular discontents into an effective opposition movement. One reason might be that, the two rival incumbent elites have divided Kurdistan on partisan line. Each has his own territory. The degree of repression, behaviour of the secret police, propaganda and the freedom of expression are different.

A unified democratic opposition movement, is highly necessary to emancipate other excluded progressive actors such as women, labour, youth and migrants, and to end elite monopoly of power, strengthen the unity of Kurdish people, abolish the system of “dictatorships” and replace it by a true democratic government,. A sort of an “orange revolution” in Kurdistan will set an example to be followed in the rest of the Middle East.

The contradiction in the USA policy is clear, it “spoils Kurdish elites”, while condemns vehemently dictatorship among the Arab ruling elites. The White House has not labeled them as it has labeled the Arab dictators, because of its military difficulties in Iraq. However, it is dangerous to stand idly, and expect that foreign powers will do the job. A dynamic people depends on their own will, his unity and his own determination. This movement for democratic changes in Kurdistan, can benefit from the support of the international community, but, as a determined nation the real task is our task.
The Kurdish political elite

By Hishyar Barzani