Dying Dream of a Civil State: Iraq's Liberal, Secular MPs Criticised for Self-Interested Performance
Before Iraq's last set of federal elections, held last April before the country's ongoing security crisis began, civil society activists and secular and liberal voters were hoping that a new political grouping, the Civil Democratic Alliance, would make their dreams come true.
At the time, Reuters reported that, “the Alliance, made up of around 10 liberal and secular parties, including Iraq’s Communist party, wanted to be an alternative to the communal politics defining [the] national vote,” and was “aimed at people who feel so marginalised by Iraq's politics that they are hardly counted”.
"We want scientists, doctors and economists. Parliament is no place for clerics," one post on the Alliance’s Facebook page read at the time.
For some Iraqis, the grouping represented the country's best chance at a civil, secular state. Unfortunately after the votes were counted the Civil Democratic Alliance had only managed to win three seats out of the 328-seat Parliament. Parties based on sectarian, religious and ethnic groups still dominated. Nonetheless, there was still some hope that the three new MPs could make a difference.
However now – over a year since the MPs were elected – disappointed supporters of the Civil Democratic Alliance say that their representatives have not achieved much at all. They say the three MPs - Mithal al-Alousi, Shorouq al-Abayachi and Fayek al-Sheikh Ali - haven't managed to make an impact on important decisions, they haven't managed to attract other MPs to the Alliance – even though many MPs affiliated to sectarian-based parties also believe in a civil state – and they have not been united when it comes to debated topics.
“The burden carried by these three MPs is very big,” admits Ghadanfar al-Luaibi, a civil society activist affiliated with the Alliance. “But still, they have not been able to be united in the face of other bigger, well-established parties.”
“It is also true that the Islamic parties have become more experienced in politics over the past few years and that they have more money,” al-Luaibi notes. “So it is difficult for other MPs to resist those agendas. Still, the Civil Democratic Alliance's MPs haven't really even achieved a minimum of what we wanted.”
Other supporters of the Alliance are tougher on the MPs. They believe that the politicians haven't really managed to stand up for anything different from any of the other parties in Parliament, parties that have extremely different agendas from the Civil Democratic Alliance. These harsher critics say the MPs have only been worried about maintaining their own position and privilege.
“Before they were elected, these MPs used to join us in criticizing other members of the Parliament as well as in criticizing the different ministers and the privileges they enjoy – things like personal guards and armoured cars and overseas travel with extended stays outside of Iraq,” says Samira Rifaat, another supporter of the Civil Democratic Alliance.
The MPs did better work toward the dream of a civil society before they were elected, Rifaat states. And, she adds, she was personally surprised and upset when one of the MPs she supports didn't even bother to answer any calls regarding a campaign supporters of the Alliance were organising. Previously the MP had joined in all the campaigns, she complained.
“Instead these MPs are distancing themselves from the voters and they're investing in their own private interests,” Rifaat noted. “That is a big, and unforgivable, mistake.”
“The failure of the Civil Democratic Alliance MPs means that they must be replaced,” says Ali Amer, a local journalist and civil society activist. “There has been a lot of tough criticism but the aim of it is to improve the performance of these politicians,” he told NIQASH.
Of course, the MPS in question are quick to refute this and to explain why they haven't managed to achieve as much as they'd like. They are facing some sizeable obstacles – for example, it is almost impossible to persuade other MPs to leave their sectarian blocs and move - but, they say, they're also happy to hear the criticism because it's healthy and helps them.
“All over the world, the voice of civil society becomes weak when there is a militarized conflict,” one of the Civil Democratic Alliance MPs currently in Parliament, Shorouq al-Abayachi, told NIQASH. “That happens all over the world, not just in Iraq.”
“Any efforts we make are not as easy to see as they would be in normal conditions,” al-Abayachi points out. “We have actually achieved some things but nobody noticed because of what's going on in the country.”
The things that they achieved will not only benefit the supporters of the Alliance but all of the people of Iraq, says al-Abayachi.
“We have been able to be neutral when it comes to sectarian discourse and we have also been effective in enacting some pieces of legislation in Parliament,” she explains. “For example, because of our work, replacing MPs [who vacate their seats for reasons such as ministerial jobs or governorships] is no longer the job of party leaders. We have also submitted many other draft laws to Parliament.”
In conclusion, al-Abayachi could only ask that supporters of the Civil Democratic Alliance remain patient and she promised that the MPs would do their best to improve upon their performance in the remaining time before the next election. Up until then, it seems supporters of these political underdogs can only hope that one distant day their dream of a civil Iraq may be realised.