Saturday, October 15, 2005

Three Views Of A Secret

Today Iraqi's are voting on whether to adopt their new Constitution. The Constitution, and Iraqi Democracy remains a work in progress. It is a secret as to how events shall unfold. Will Iraq become a real constitutional republic, which protects real human rights, or will it descend into a Sharia-dominated hell?

Nina Shea on Iraq's Constitution:

On Saturday, Iraq is expected to adopt a new constitution in a national referendum. It will be a significant milestone in the establishment of an electoral democracy in the Arab Middle East. It is the only place in that part of the world where leaders of disparate and hostile groups have engaged in political give and take resulting in a social compact for their nation that is put before all Iraqi citizens in an inclusive and transparent vote.

The Bush administration, particularly the president himself, deserves credit, for this is no small achievement. While Freedom House now counts 119 electoral democracies in the world, not one is an Arab nation; come December 15, when elections are to held for a new government, Iraq will take another major step towards becoming the only one.

Still, those of us who work to defend religious freedom internationally are deeply troubled by the soon-to-be adopted constitution. We are concerned that it may be the first step in creating what is called an “illiberal democracy,” or even in undermining democracy altogether. We fear the powerful role given to Islam in the constitution — a role that is likely to negate the positive language on religious freedom and other individual human rights.

The new constitution fails to guarantee the fundamental human rights and freedoms contained in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that are consistent with America’s core values and President Bush’s articulated foreign-policy goals.

Instead, it sets forth two competing and diametrically opposed visions of society: one based on individual rights and principles of equality, and the other grounded in a sharia (Islamic law) regime of group rights, in which rights are conditioned on a person’s membership in a discriminatory hierarchy of groups (male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim, etc.), and where the basic rights of all individuals are subordinated to the group.

The provisions of the bill of rights are subject to ambiguities and contradictions contained elsewhere in the constitution. For example, the carefully crafted provisions asserting rights to religious freedom and equality before the law are placed in doubt by the repugnancy clause of Article 2,which states that “no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established” ...

Meanwhile, former political adviser to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Ramon Martinez, touts the flexibility of the document:

The final version of the document was only completed this past Wednesday, as Shia and Kurdish negotiators scrambled to make concessions to their Sunni counterparts in an effort to win backing for the charter.

Among the changes is a new provision that would make the constitution easier to amend in the first year after it passes. According to the deal, a commission drawn from the next Iraqi parliament — which will be elected in a national vote on December 15 — will be authorized to offer amendments to the constitution. If approved by a majority vote in the legislature, such changes will be presented to the Iraqi people in a new national referendum next summer.

The impact of this compromise on the outcome of Saturday's vote is not yet clear. Since the deal was announced, some influential Sunni groups have announced their support for the document. Others are still opposing the charter. Whichever way Sunnis vote, the constitution retains overwhelming support from Shia and Kurds, and is likely to be approved nationwide.

In any case, the real significance of the deal is not its potential effect on the referendum, but rather its positive implications for Iraq's political development down the line. By making the constitution easier to amend, the deal will strengthen the political incentives leading Sunnis away from the insurgency and toward peaceful participation in the democratic process.

In this regard, the agreement is the latest and most visible step in a yearlong effort to promote Sunni engagement in Iraq's emerging political institutions. Last January, Sunnis largely boycotted Iraq's first set of democratic elections. Ever since then, leaders within the community have sought to reverse the effects of this historic mistake, most notably by participating in the constitutional drafting committee set up by the Iraqi parliament this summer.

Despite their efforts, the Sunni drafters complained loudly of being marginalized in the negotiations. They have sharply criticized the constitution that emerged from the talks, objecting in particular to its embrace of federalism. Sunnis are especially concerned about the proposal of some Shia groups to unite nine provinces in southern Iraq into a single, Shia-dominated federal region.

In truth, the constitution is not nearly as one-sided as the Sunnis have claimed. The Iraqi drafters deliberately chose to make the charter extraordinarily flexible over time. On a host of divisive, hot-button political issues, therefore — including those responsible for Sunni discontent — the constitution defers tough decisions for Iraqi parliaments to decide in the future.

This is especially true in its treatment of federalism. Far from establishing a unified Shia mega-region, the constitution merely recognizes a right of individual provinces to form new regions in the future — but only under "terms and conditions" to be set by future law, and only with the approval of local citizens by referendum. The charter takes a similar flexible approach to other issues, including Supreme Court appointments, the development policy for Iraq's commonly owned oil resources, the powers of the presidency, and the role of a second legislative chamber.

To help their chances (for the next election) in December, Sunnis will need to organize parties and build strong coalitions that cut across sectarian divisions. Ideally, these alliances will reach out to Shia leaders who share Sunni concerns on key issues such as federalism. Over time, such cross-sectarian partnerships will foster the emergence of an Iraqi political system based more on issues and ideas, and less on identity.

Not everyone agrees that constitutional flexibility is a good thing. Ever since the initial draft was made public, critics have argued that by deferring difficult questions to the future, the charter fails to fully meet Iraq's political needs. No doubt these complaints will intensify with this week's deal, which leaves the constitution even more open to amendment than before.

In fact, Iraq's status as a fragile, emerging democracy makes a flexible approach especially worthwhile. The new charter can promote stability and order, yet without setting every decision permanently into stone. Constitutional flexibility will actually strengthen democracy, by allowing internal debate to ripen and reflect the broadest diversity of views. Most importantly, of course, it will speed along the Sunni community's gradual integration into Iraq's new democratic order.

For all its historic significance, then, Saturday's referendum will not mark the last word in Iraq's political evolution. Once the new constitution passes, the Iraqi political debate will only just be starting to heat up.

Mohammed at Iraq The Model says:

It’s only a beginning since there will be more steps to go but it’s the right beginning because it’s a transition from temporary laws to a permanent-though amendable-constitution on which the people will assume control through their elected representatives and through their own direct votes.

It is really amazing how things have changed in Iraq; three years ago Saddam “won” 100% of the votes in a pathetic referendum that he designed in order to give legitimacy to his reign while yesterday even security detainees were allowed to express their opinion on the constitution through voting and the government and parliament are almost begging the 15 million plus voters to say ‘yes’!

And although many signs indicate that the document is on its way to be ratified, no one can say it is until the people decide which checkbox to tic tomorrow.

Some people would say “Is that all you won, after more than two years of war and violence? That’s only one basic right” well, that is the point; we’ve secured one key right that can help us secure the rest.

Approving this draft is not the end goal, it’s a step among others in this process of evolution in Iraq and it’s going to be the gate to more steps until we reach the day when we have a constitution that satisfies and serves the greatest majority of the people.

Now let me take you in a short journey in Baghdad; I woke up this morning and decided to take a tour to see Baghdad preparing for the referendum, first thing I saw and surprised me was a leaflet thrown in front of our door. It was calling for a ‘NO’ stating 10 reasons for doing that. I read the leaflet that had the Ba’athist tone with five out of 10 of the points said that approving this draft constitution is a Zionist goal. I tried hard to find a connection and of course there wasn’t any and it looked like a desperate attempt to use conspiracy theories.

To give you an example of the points in that paper I’ll tell you what one point was “what if an Iraqi woman married an Israeli man? Should we grant their children the Iraqi nationality!!!???” and yes, they used way too many exclamation points and question marks.

I walked away feeling more willing to vote with ‘yes’.

So, we see that the democratic process of individual decision-making is breaking down old, tired, illusions in the Arab world. That is a definite good. Let's us pray that as time passes more good will come, and the secret will be freedom spreading like wildfire through the Islamic world.