May 3, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 903

Syrian Journalist Praises Iraq's Election of Kurdish President

May 3, 2005
Syria, Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 903

The pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir published an article by journalist Jad Al-Karim Al-Juba'i praising Iraq's election of a Kurdish president, and stating that this move was part of the building of a new Iraqi national state and identity based upon national (watani) and not ethnic (qawmi) affiliation. [1] The following are excerpts from the article:

It is Advisable that the Arabs "Free Themselves from the Myth of [Ethnic] Origin"

"…The election to the presidency of Jalal Al-Talabani, a secular intellectual well-connected with many Arab and non-Arab intellectuals and politicians, is, we hope, part of a process of the overall building of the [Iraqi] state, and particularly of the rebuilding of Iraqi nationality (wataniya).

"It is a good sign that the Iraqis – whether Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Sunni, or Shiite – agreed … to present his candidacy and to elect him to this position. Perhaps this agreement does something to repair the rifts created in Iraqi society by the former regime... and will help remove the remnants of the abhorrent crimes that it committed against the Iraqis – particularly against the Kurds among them, and also against non-Iraqis…

"This is not the first time that a Kurdish citizen has attained the presidency of a country with an Arab majority. Something similar occurred more than once in Syria, during its brief liberal phase that immediately followed its independence. [At that time], to the best of my knowledge Syrians were not interested in the ethnic origin of their president, and it was enough for them that he was Syrian.

"Furthermore, I think that in Syria, as in Iraq, there was no Kurdish problem as we know it today, until the pan-Arabists [ qawmiyun, i.e., the Ba'th party] took the regime by force of arms…

"The Arabs in general and the Iraqis in particular should free themselves from the myth of [ethnic] origin and replace it with the fact of national (watani) identity – an identity that individuals, social groups, and political parties draw from the state, provided that the state is an expression of the social whole and of the sovereignty of the people."

The Concept of a National State is Completely Absent from Arab Political Thought

"Obviously, Al-Talabani's election to the Iraqi presidency arouses extensive debate between the advocates of ethnic nationalism (qawmiya)both Arabs and Kurds, and within each camp as well, and it is no surprise that this debate is charged with fallout from the past, to one extent or another. Those who find that history did not unfold as they would have liked [i.e. the Arab nationalists] console themselves [by saying] that this election is nothing more than a transitional stage, not to mention that it was held under occupation. But they forget that this transitional stage, like all transitional stages, is a formative stage. They also forget that history has a logic that takes no account of one's wishes or ethnic-nationalist (qawmi) or other illusions – and that occupation is history's punishment for arrogance and tyranny.

"And those who imagine that this time history is going as they wish [i.e. the Kurdish nationalists] … who understand from the cunning of history only that it allowed them to take vengeance upon the Arabs, still look at the world through the eye of a needle, and are incapable of seeing Jalal Al-Talabani as anything but a fighter for the Kurdish cause.

"This attitude is understandable from the point of view of both these [ethnic-nationalist] groups because the concept of the national (watani) state is completely absent from their social consciousness and ethnic-nationalist (qawmi) ideology, as well as from Arab political thought.

"With his election as president of the republic, Jalal Al-Talabani has ceased to be a Kurdish leader or the chairman of a Kurdish party, and it would be improper for him to act like one. On the contrary: He has reached the pinnacle of Iraqi nationalism (wataniya) … and has become the president of all the Iraqis…

"His election firmly establishes a major political principle of the modern state: that every citizen is entitled to present his candidacy for the position of the presidency, and the people or its representatives are entitled to elect whomever they think suitable, in accordance with the country's statutes and constitution…

"The transitional stage is the formative stage. Is the election of President Al-Talabani the first sign of the writing of an Iraqi constitution, in a way that will advance a national (watani) state, rebuild Iraqi citizenship, and determine the right of every Iraqi citizen to be president of the new Iraq by means of free elections – regardless of his ethnic, religious, sectarian, class, or political affiliation? If this is the case, blessed are the Iraqis, and congratulations to Jalal Al-Talabani on his presidency."


[1] Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 18, 2005. Throughout the article, the author distinguishes between ethnic-based nationalism (qawmiya), which in Arab thought usually refers to pan-Arabism, and nationalism based on affiliation to the individual nation-state (wataniya).

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