Thursday, August 25, 2005

Arabs fear spread of federalism :: Middle East Online

As Kurds and Shiites in Iraq push for a federal constitution, fears are rising in the Arab world that the urge to create separate states could spread in countries with religious and ethnic minorities, analysts said.

When minority groups feel oppressed or deem that their rights are restricted by the centralised states in which they live, they are drawn to notions of autonomy or federalism so that they can better exercise their rights, Arab experts said.

Therefore, the Arab world is keeping a close eye on the outcome of demands for a federalist Iraq as it creates its first constitution since the fall of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein, said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, an analyst from Cairo's Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"The result of the fight - between Sunnis who are against federalism in Iraq and Kurds who are for it - will have a decisive influence on how other countries' crises play out, from west of Asia to the Middle East and Iran," he said.

"Federalism was not one of the concepts in the Arab political dictionary, until now," he said.

The United Arab Emirates is presently the only federal state in the gulf region.

Some parallels between the sources of success of the federal system in the UAE and the USA can be made. For example,

  • The USA was formed by the voluntary association of the 13 colonial states; the UAE was formed by the voluntary association of 7 independent emirates.
  • In both countries the individual states/emirates saw there was a political and economic gain to unifying and ceding control to a central government for joint protection from foreign intervention, and to reign in destructive barriers to trade between states/emirates.
  • The USA had George Washington; the UAE had Sheik Zayed. Both founding leaders were highly respected by large majorities of their citizens.
  • The USA and the UAE both experienced huge immigration -- the difference here being that in the UAE few of these immigrants have gained citizenship.
  • In the USA and the UAE the ethnic and sectarian diversity within each state/emirate was not dissimilar to the diversity between the states/emirates.
  • In the USA and the UAE states/emirates were delegated considerable discretion to handle local affairs locally.
  • The US left some questions of major conflict unresolved. Less than 100 years after its founding, a very bloody civil war was fought over those issues. When that war ended the central government gained considerable power, including a greatly expanded ability to tax -- and thereby redistribute. In the UAE 90% of the oil wealth is in Abu Dhabi and it has been used for the same redistributive purposes as well as a carrot and stick to defuse conflict between emirates.

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