Elections represent a contract between a nation’s people and the governing classes; the people have their say, and bestow a mandate to govern upon those they select. However, in some states this fundamental social contract has been broken beyond repair.
In the October 2021 elections, the Iraqi people spoke with remarkable clarity about who they did NOT want to represent them; the Iran-backed paramilitary coalition affiliated with Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi plunged from its already modest 48 seats out of 329, to just 17.
In any other parliamentary system, this would represent rejection to the point of near extinction. However, in Iraq, these Hashd factions — which according to the constitution should be banned from politics because of their paramilitary affiliations — have instead bullied and pressured the entire political system to a standstill, holding Iraq hostage until the levers of power are surrendered to them.
In consequence, parliament has failed for a third time to elect a president, a full six months after the elections, largely because vested interests have pressured enough factions and independent MPs to boycott sessions and bring everything to a standstill. The Hashd’s Iranian allies have threatened, bribed and blackmailed politicians behind the scenes. Iraqi social media users heaped derision on cowardly MPs who faked illness to excuse themselves from parliament in a willful sabotage of the political process.
Perhaps the most detested man in Iraq, former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, has exploited the deadlock to insist that his faction must be part of any future “consensus” government — even though the leader of the largest faction, Moqtada Al-Sadr, has insisted on Maliki’s exclusion because of the numerous catastrophes he has inflicted upon Iraq at the bidding of Iran and sectarian militants. Sadr told Maliki and Hashd leaders: “I will not reach consensus with you. Consensus means putting an end to the country… What you describe as political deadlock is better than agreeing with you and dividing the cake with you.” Nevertheless, the result is likely to be indefinite deadlock.
Hashd factions and Hezbollah boast endlessly of their “resistance” to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, while they themselves facilitate an Iranian occupation of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen that is every bit as pernicious and destructive. As in Iraq, so too in Lebanon; a political system repeatedly brought to a halt until Hezbollah and its allies extract exactly what they want.
With elections just over a month away, it pains me to say that Hezbollah remain the best organized team in the field, taking advantage of recent political turbulence to draw likely winners into their camp. Structurally, Hezbollah can win only a minority of seats, so it is entirely a question of how it can exploit its political leverage to thwart the popular will through “blocking thirds” and shady backroom deals. Hezbollah also draws on its immense financial reserves to bribe voters with food, money and welfare support, along with vague promises of cheap electricity and fuel from Iran — which if they ever materialize are likely to cost Lebanon far more than money.
The situation is highly fluid in Sunni areas after Saad Hariri’s withdrawal, but also throughout Christian constituencies as the collapse in support for Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement because of their alliance with “Hizb-Al-Shaitan” offers opportunities for other factions and personalities. There has also been a commendably large increase in female candidates.
Hashd factions and Hezbollah boast endlessly of their “resistance” to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, while they themselves facilitate an Iranian occupation of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen that is every bit as pernicious and destructive.
To widespread hilarity, Aoun has reassured voters that he would remain as president until he had rooted out every corrupt official. Hurrah! However, his list of “dirty” politicians must be extremely long, and presumably he’s saving close relatives and allies until last.
The Lebanon we know and love is dying on its feet, as the brightest and best leave in droves, fleeing hunger, poverty and unemployment. There is a yearning for change and we must use the elections as a crucial tool to this end.
In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s allies win over and over again because a critical mass of MPs, for their own corrupt personal gain, are willing to sell out their nations and their compatriots. And this is only possible because enough citizens naively or carelessly vote for such traitors.
As matters stand, these political systems have become wholly corrupted and are scarcely salvageable without radical action. Citizens must ask themselves whether they are content to be a colony for another occupying state, or whether they desire to be free, independent and sovereign. As the journalist Ali Hamadeh recently argued: “There is no reform without sovereignty, and no sovereignty without reform”.
Sir William Patey, the British ambassador to Baghdad in 2005-2006, spoke last week of having warned the British government that Iraq was “heading toward civil war unless we deal with the militias,” particularly after Maliki had been allowed to “strip out the guts of the Iraqi army.” He was speaking at an event to launch my new book on Iraq’s paramilitary factions, “Militia State,” which argues that the existence of these entities is inimical to the existence of any kind of democratic or representative system. Unfortunately, Sir William’s advice went unheeded and these militias have been allowed to consolidate their position until they became stronger than the state.
Just as nominally rival factions came together as the March 14 Alliance to confront Syrian and Iranian dominance, we need new broad-based alliances that may differ widely in their politics but are united in their absolute rejection of Iranian dominance of their political systems.
As I argue in my book, when a small, rejected minority acting in the interests of a hostile foreign state is repeatedly allowed to dominate governments, this is not democracy. When paramilitaries use violence to force the government’s hand, and assassinate rivals, activists and journalists, this is not democracy. And when governing systems can be held hostage for months on end until discredited elements are awarded top positions, this farce has absolutely nothing to do with democracy.
In these states, including Iran itself, people’s aspirations will continue to be thwarted until citizens assertively exercise their democratic rights with their feet and emerge en masse on to the streets to flush these criminals out of the corridors of power once and for all.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state. Her new book, “Militia State —The Rise of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi and the Eclipse of the Iraqi Nation State,” is published by Nomad Publishing.