Learning from Lebanon

As Lebanon turns to Saudi and Syrian mediators to help rebuild a governing coalition, Iraq moves forward with a tenuous unity government of its own. At times like these, the two countries’ similarities and differences can point Iraq’s leaders toward a stable democratic future.

NEW YORK – After watching the collapse of Lebanon’s government last week, it is hard not to think about efforts to build a stable Iraq. The two countries have so much in common. Both are volatile democracies where any political question can provoke not just intense debate, but also the threat of violence.

Both countries have relative freedom of speech, at least relative to their Arab neighbors, and a multitude of political parties that are always ready to use it. Each faces a greater risk of manipulation by outsiders than other countries in the region.

Iraq and Lebanon are also the Arab world’s most ethnically and religiously diverse countries. Though Lebanon has not conducted a reliable census in decades, its population is thought to be about 30% Sunni Muslim, 30% Shia Muslim, and 30% Christian, with Druze and others accounting for the rest. In Iraq, about 60% are Shia, 20% are Sunni Arabs, and 20% are Kurds, who are mostly Sunni. In both countries, representatives of each of these groups demand substantial political influence.

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