The Political Elite and Crises of Governance

Iraq and Libya Are Examples
Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr climb the blast walls surrounding Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone during protest against corruption in Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2022. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against corruption inside the parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq July 27. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Protesters hold political banners and Libyan flags at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya, February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed
Delegates take part in an international conference to support the stability of Libya ahead of the country's presidential elections in December, in Tripoli, Libya, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed

It is not an overstatement to say that studying the issue of the elite and its position in managing states and societies is one of the major approaches that contributes to understanding and explaining many political, economic and social phenomena that occur in these states and societies.

As within any society, there is a limited ruling group that monopolizes the most critical economic, political and social positions and plays pivotal roles within these ruling systems, as they have the power to make decisions or at least influence their formulation.

Hence, it becomes crucial to shed light on the role of these elites in general and their political role, in particular, to find out the conditions in any country. There are many approaches through which the conditions and phenomena within these countries can be analyzed.

Still, the approach related to the role of the elite represents a keener tactic for the understanding and clarification of the causes and factors, and it is more appropriate in offering solutions and proposals to solve the crises and problems the countries are facing.

Just as this elite has a role in achieving the state's political stability, it can also provoke problems and unrest within it, depending on what it possesses of the many and varied tools and mechanisms. Some are related to the nature of its location (economic, political, or cultural/social), others are related to the nature of its position, and others are related to its relations and associations with the external parties that have their internal effects.

The relevance of this comment is due to the unstable political, security and economic conditions that some countries in the Arab region are experiencing. With a quick look at the map of the Arab countries, we can observe an active role of the political elite in the stable countries that have succeeded in crossing over their crises and developing immediate and long-term solutions to their crises. This is exemplified by what Egypt underwent after the June 30 revolution and what the Arab Gulf states witnessed in maintaining their political stability and economic development in light of the future visions they presented for sustainable development.

On the other hand, we find countries whose political elites have failed to find a way out of their political crises, economic pitfalls, and social/cultural conflicts, as shown by Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Sudan, as well as Lebanon, albeit at different levels between them. However, the two crises experienced by Iraq and Libya remain more an expression of the role of the political elite in the crisis of governance despite the varying circumstances and the different situations, which this report reviews through two axes as follows:

The Political Crisis in Iraq; the Struggle of the Elite to Represent Their Formation:

Throughout its history, Iraq has suffered from several crises in which its political elite played an active role. A careful reading of what Iraq has experienced reveals that the state's crisis was not economic due to the lack of resources, or social due to the diversity of its societal factions as much as it was due to how its political elite managed its internal issues.

This is evidenced by what Iraq is undergoing today in terms of a complex political crisis of multiple dimensions - the crisis between its three main factions (Shiites - Sunnis - Kurds) and their failures in developing a consensual model capable of managing the country's affairs without conflicts and clashes that are renewed from time to time.

The last crisis contained a Shiite-Shiite conflict, and it contained a Kurdish-Kurdish conflict, as well as a Sunni-Shiite conflict, and an Arab-Kurdish conflict, which means that there is a more profound crisis within the sectarian and ethnic composition in Iraq, as each party is looking at its right to represent its sect, ideology or ethnicity. Everyone stands today in what is known in history as “the struggle of all against all.”

There are indeed initiatives put forward by some parties in an attempt to bridge the rift. Still, they have remained mere invitations to hold dialogues and meetings that will not lead to real solutions to the crisis that the country is sustaining.

This finds its explanation in two factors: internal competition and conflict between the political elite that leads each sectarian or ethnic faction, and its continuous attempt to impose its hegemony and control over the domestic scene. For example, the aftermath of the recent elections between the Sadrist movement, which has the parliamentary majority, and the Coordination Framework that talks about political dominance, not parliamentary sovereignty. The latter is a term that its supporters used to provoke a fake crisis in order to disregard the election results in an attempt to disrupt the Sadrist movement's representation of the Shiite majority in the face of the representatives of the Coordination Framework.

The same thing was repeated in the case of Kurdish representation in the Presidency of the Iraqi Republic, which contributed to the disruption of the parliament's work and its ability to choose a prime minister and a president of the republic so that the structure would remain stable, leading to a state of conflict between supporters of each faction in the streets, which later moved to governmental institutions. This happened recently in the attack on the Iraqi parliament by supporters of the Sadrist movement, rejecting the political practices carried out by the Coordination Framework for the purpose of undermining the results of the electoral process in which it had failed.

The second is external and relates to the role of external parties in the Iraqi crisis, starting with the American part, passing through the Turkish intervention, and reaching the Iranian penetration, in which Tehran tried to extend hegemony over Iraqi internal affairs through its proxies from some Shiite parties.

That is rejected by other Shiite parties, meaning the Sadrist movement, which defends Iraq's Arab identity, unity, sovereignty and independence against the dictates of the mullahs in Tehran. Undoubtedly, these interventions played an active role in complicating the Iraqi crisis.

The Political Crisis in Libya; the Struggle of the Elite Over Positions, Rewards:

The Libyan situation was not far from the Iraqi scene in the struggles of its political elite over the seats of power and its rewards. A reading of the crisis reveals the availability of the same two factors that play a role in the complexities of the Iraqi problem, namely, the internal factor related to the conflicts of the Libyan political parties and the attempt of each party to gain by deducting the balance of the other side, taking into account the absence of the sectarian and ethnic dimension in contrast to the hegemony of the tribal and regional dimensions.

If the sectarian and ethnic dimension played a role in the Iraqi crisis, then in the Libyan crisis it is concentrated in the tribal and regional dimensions between the east, west, and south, as each party tries to entrench itself in the geographical space that they dominate, exploiting its wealth and resources as if it were an independent state.

This feature represented the expressive picture of the Libyan crisis since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011. The second factor is related to foreign interference, whether international, as is the case in the American, Russian, European or regional role, as is the case in Turkey, where these parties are trying to seize the opportunity to find a footing for their interests in the Libyan land, which suffers from the absence of a political elite capable of resolving the discord in the interest of the country.

Instead, the Libyan elite fell into the clutches of affiliations and alignments with some external parties that tried to employ these elites to achieve their interests. Perhaps what the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Libya and the Acting Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, stated was accurately expressing the position of the elite and its responsibility for the situation in Libya, as she said: "Some in the political class want to obstruct dialogue and agreement in Libya, and this is harmful... the people are fed up."

The feasibility of the statement is that the Iraqi and Libyan crises revealed the role of the political elite in the deterioration of the situation, the complexity of circumstances and the obstruction of a national action track to reach political understandings in order to get out of the furnace of conflicts that were not limited to the political arena, but instead moved to fight on the ground between the same people under false pretexts and invalid allegations.

The Iraqi and Libyan crises, like other crises that the Arab countries (Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen and other examples) are witnessing, is a crisis of a political elite that has become too sterilized to present fundamental ideas, practical proposals and future policies to build their countries based on internal consensus and political understanding far from opening the door to foreign interlopers who try to seize the country's capabilities and employ them to achieve their interests at the expense of the interests of the peoples whose fate has depended on the ability of their elite to draw plans and determine paths. This real crisis deserves to be highlighted if we want to get out of the closed circle that revolves around its political concerns.

The conclusion is that the political elite in any country is the most influential factor in its conditions and future. If their intentions are sincere, their reading is good, and their decision is mastered, they will save their country from conflicts that threaten its security, stability, and even existence. Will these elites wake up from their negligence and pay attention to their responsibilities, or will they remain as they are to make their people pay the price of their ossification?

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