Round Table “Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East”
In 2010, a coalition called al-Iraqiyya, led by a secular Shi’a, Ayad Allawi, and composed of mostly Sunni parties, won a plurality in the Iraqi election. The coalition, however, did not secure the majority necessary to form the government. Instead, a grand Shi’a coalition formed after the election, the National Alliance, gained the majority. Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki secured his second term in office as the head of “national unity” government, a euphemism for a government distributing its ministerial positions mainly based on ethnic and sectarian affiliation. When negotiations began about al-Iraqiyya’s positions in the government, a controversy ensued regarding whether it should be considered a Sunni coalition and given the “Sunni share” of positions, or continue to be identified, as its leader wanted, as a cross-sectarian coalition, an identification that was difficult to quantify in the ethno-sectarian formula of power sharing. In the end, the Sunni parties in the coalition took off the “cross-sectarian” hat and resigned themselves to recognizing their “Sunnism” in order to receive their share of power.
Throughout the twentieth century, religion acted as a primary source of political conflict in Syria. Since 2011, the importance of religious concerns has increased. The Assad regime has worked to simultaneously stir sectarian feelings and heighten fears among minorities. This has brought questions of the protection of minorities and religious freedoms to the forefront of post-war considerations. What can be done to neutralize religion as an element of political conflict in post-war Syria and what role can supra-constitutional principles play?