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The New Arab Order

Salman Masalha

The New Arab Order

Could a social and political arrangement be reached, with the aim of governing Arab life so as to move beyond the perpetual state of conflict that Arab peoples and regimes have been locked in for generations? Is there a true will to reach such a formula? And can the new Iraq provide a model to be emulated in this respect?

On the one hand, it is clear that the Arab political culture hardly provides a model worth emulating. But on the other hand, those who call for imitating Western culture ignore the nature of Arab societies and their political history.

In Iraq, for example, we may ignore all the shortcomings that we suffer from in order to call for a united Iraq while disregarding the ethnic and religious diversity of its population. And what applies to Iraq applies to other Arab countries as well.

The Kurd, for example, sees himself as a Kurd first and Iraqi second. The same applies to other groups such as the Sunnis, Shiites, Turkmen and other minorities. Yet in other countries such as France, people identify with their country before they identify with their religious or ethnic affiliations.

The world today deals with political entities and not with ethnic or religious groups. Thus, if the people of Iraq want to make a model to the region out of their country, they should apply a secular constitution. The Iraqi Arab, for example, must be prepared to accept a Kurd as president. The same applies to other sects.

Consequently, it is important to separate religion from state if Iraq is to be a model for the region. And since we are aware of the sensitivities involved in such a framework, the presidency should be rotated among the different ethnic and religious sects of the country with a two-term limitation.

Such a vision may not be an ideal one, but since when has the Arab situation been ideal? The Iraqi constitution may be subject to review after a century with the Iraqi identity having been entrenched in the people. And for those seeking another regime, there is the constitutional monarchy, which remains a reasonable option.

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Published in: Al-Hayat, May 12, 2003


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