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Democracy of Legislating Child Marriage

Democracy of Legislating Child Marriage

Tuesday, 21 November, 2017 - 13:00
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

Today, Iraq has an elected parliament. Ninety years ago, it also had an elected parliament. This sets Iraq among one of the oldest countries practicing modern democracy. Theoretically, societies develop with time, but this is not always the case.

Iraq’s parliamentarians are currently looking into amending personal status law to legislate few matters including a law that allows parents to marry off minor girls, as young as nine, and permit tribes to resort to tribal customs. This is not that different than the ideologies and practices of ISIS!

The problem of implementing democracy in “simple”, less developed societies has become more frequent. The parliament reflects the society’s situation and culture and legislators deal with major concepts of democracy by implementing what the people want, aiming to please voters and meet their demands.

Just like most Arab societies, cultural and awareness prevalence rate in the Iraqi society is simple, limited, and ruled by old rural traditions and habits, even though Iraq is the homeland of great ancient civilizations and the new civilization arrived there since the beginnings of the past century.

Egypt, also, is the homeland of ancient civilizations and the first Middle Eastern country to accept and accommodate to modern industrial civilization. However, Egypt suffers from a situation similar to Iraq.

After the toppling of Hosni Mubarak regime, the “Arab Spring” resulted, among other things, in a controversy between victors about the concepts of democracy and liberalism that comes with that.

When the Muslim Brotherhood represented in Mohammed Morsi’s party attained power through elections, they sought to write a new constitution in agreement with other political powers.

Following their victory, they thought they have the right to dictate their own vision for the proposed constitution, arguing they received most votes.

The vision was to draft a constitution at the expense of minorities, like Copts and women, and the marginalization of separation of powers' principle by controlling the judiciary system.

This is a distorted concept of democracy.

Iraqi people are powerless because of social, conservative, religious and tribal powers that are constitutionally allowed to engage in political work without any limitation to their authority in exploiting their influence during elections and while practicing parliamentarian or governmental work.

Religious powers, in particular, exploit the sanctity of their members and rhetoric to attack their rivals or strengthen their influence to collect money in the name of religion and form armed militias, claiming it is their religious duty.

Given that the central authority is weak, it chooses not to confront these powers in order to avoid domestic strife. All it did was prevent armed religious political parties from running the elections.

However, through maneuvers, these powers can appoint whoever they want to manage their armed militias and run for elections.

Unlike military figures, the state cannot ban those involved in the religious field from engaging in political work with more than half of Iraq’s political leaders belonging to religious organizations and tribal groups.

In addition, the higher judicial authority cannot intervene to prevent the parliament from imposing legislations that violate the principles of democracy and Iraqis’ basic rights, whether those pertained to ethnic or religious minorities or women or others.

Democracy suffers in underdeveloped societies. The current relative awareness failed in imposing itself by the elite even though there are well-educated and cultured social entities, yet they remain a minority. Extremists exploited democracy to reach, through elections, the same goals that terrorists failed to achieve via the power of arms!

The irony here is that if the Iraqi parliament voted on amending the personal status law and allowed child marriage, it will be on the list of countries violating human rights. But, at the same time, it will continue to be categorized as a democratic country only because its system and legislation are as such!

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