Iraq Brief – December 2018

The Dismal Realities Likely to Dominate the Arab World in Years to Come Invite the Church Globally to Promote Transparency and Accountability through the Practice of Resilience

By Martin Accad

 

News

On October 21, ‘Abdul Mahdi was confirmed as Iraq’s new Prime Minister. But he is heading up a new government that already reveals fractures through the inability of parliament to agree on major security appointments. With serious doubts that he will be able to secure crucial alliances, will he be able to carry out the much-needed reforms that both he and some of his major allies see as points of no-compromise for the sake of Iraq’s future?

Analysis

Only a few weeks before he accepted the Premiership, ‘Abdul Mahdi had published an important commentary where he had asserted that the right conditions for his acceptance of the job were not in place to ensure his ability to carry out the crucial reforms he knew his country needed in the years ahead. He identified these as the need for Iraq to move away from economic rentiership, decentralizing the current government system, pushing reform against endemic state corruption, reforming public institutions, and enforcing the rule of law. But curtailing rentiership, which causes paralysis in the economy due to inflated levels of public employment, will do nothing to improve the new Premier’s already failing alliances with powerful families and tribes. Yet it is doubtful that without this crucial step he will be able to carry out any significant reforms or fight corruption. And enforcing the rule of law in a state still reeling from post-war factionalism and clientelism remains a major challenge. Iraq, then, is likely to continue to suffer from the two major ills weighing on countries of the Middle East: corruption and the absence of the rule of law.

A recent article of the Carnegie Middle East Center, entitled “The Meaning of Untouchable,” analyzes the kind of leadership that has been on the rise in the post-uprisings Arab world: leadership characterized by impunity. Thanks to their savvy mastery of new internet technologies, emerging millennial leaders in the Middle East have been able to undermine the transparency that was naturally brought in by the global use of social media by means of this very tool. Events in recent years, such as the swift and forceful quelling of the popular Shiite uprising in Bahrain in 2011, demonstrated that transparency did not necessarily lead to accountability. The gruesome assassination of Khashoggi last month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul continues to affirm this trend, as the masterminds behind the killing are likely to remain unpunished as well. The suspicious, economically-driven, silent conspiracy of western nations with this new trend of impunity will continue to reinforce the conviction of emerging Arab leaders that they are able to return to the old brutish methods of government without being held accountable by the international community, let alone by their own people.

Theological Perspectives

“By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down” (Proverbs 29:4, NIV). When there is no one to hold a leader accountable to justice in the land, countries will continue to sink deeper into violence, injustice, and corruption. In such lands, people are robbed of hope in a brighter future and driven to despair, resorting to emigration. Pharaoh, in both the Bible and the Qur’an represents evil political power that sets itself up against God. It is a theme that runs through the scriptures and the image of evil against which the church is called to stand.

Missiological Implications

Christians, like their fellow-citizens, have often been prone to capitulation and despair. They resort to emigration in search for a brighter future elsewhere. But to those who feel like exiles in the land of their birth, the prophet Jeremiah writes: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters (…) seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:5-7). God’s message of hope for those who despair and live with the purpose of emigration is this: “For I know the plans I have for you (…) plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (verse 11).

The body of Christ is called to be salt and light in the midst of despair. The mere act of staying is itself often a powerful demonstration of the mission of the church through the practice of resilience. The Bible calls us to place our hopes, not in worldly promise of comfort, but in the God-given peace that surpasses human understanding because it is founded not on realities observable by the human eye, but on faith in the unseen and hope in the Prince of peace. Hebrews 11 provides us with a list of biblical heroes that lived by faith, though as we read in verse 13, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Faith is not motivated by the necessity of present fulfillment. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). In the midst of both the present and impending chaos of the Arab world, a “theology of staying” remains the basis for the faithful missional presence of the church in impossible situations. And biblical faithfulness is based on Hebrews’ definition of faith, not on external circumstances. For more on a “theology of staying,” please read my earlier article on the subject in the IMES blog.