Iraq’s voters have spoken. Now a new government must be formed and a new constitution written. Lebanon, argues Paul Salem, may provide a guide for those Iraqis who seek a constitution that can reconcile the country’s Shi-ite, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen communities.
Rebuilding a country devastated by war, riven by internal divisions, and plagued by foreign intervention in a part of the world as volatile as the Middle East is one of the most daunting tasks imaginable. Add to it a desire to create a democracy from scratch in a region characterized by authoritarian government and that task becomes almost impossible. But the challenge has been met before, in Lebanon after its nightmarishly long civil war (1975-1990). So perhaps there are lessons from that experience that can be applied in Iraq.
Both Lebanon and Iraq comprise ancient communities living within the borders of states outlined in the 20th century. Although a strong sense of modern nationalism exists in both, ancient ethnic and religious communities play a critical role in shaping political identities and public life.
Both countries also possess a fairly educated middle class and intelligentsia alongside more traditional elites. Both societies have a mixed history that included periods of peaceful, cooperative politics and periods of violence and bloodletting.