Islamists and Secularists: Reluctant Bedfellows of a Turbulent Iraq

July 25, 2013

Over the last few days, Iraq’s Islamists and secularists have been attacking and accusing each other in newspaper articles and Facebook posts, most of it centered on the closing of cafes in Baghdad by the city’s staunchly Shiite governor.

Secularists have likened the closures to attacks by Al-Qaeda, while the Islamists have applauded the governor’s actions “to uphold Islamic values.”

Until now, both sides have behaved as if the other does not exist, as if no one else has a right to a differing view or a different way of life.

But the recent exchange has had a positive aspect as well: It has led to both sides learning that they need each other, and possibly have to work together. In other words, they have woken up to this reality.

For their part, the Islamists today are understanding that they cannot have things their way any longer if they want to remain in government or as part of a political process.

The only way for them to impose their will is through violence, but they realize that this will result in them losing even what they have today. They fear a repeat of the story Egypt – where an elected Islamic party was ousted and is now fighting for survival — but have no real strategy to avoid the same fate.

The secularists, on the other hand, seem fixated on the opportunity of catching and attacking an Islamist blunder What is also interesting is that they forget their own political weakness.

The secularists cannot mobilize the public and bring them into the streets as well as the Islamists have. At times, one preacher alone at a Friday sermon can gather more people than all of the professor-types in the secular camp. They, too, need to look at the early days of the Egyptian revolution.

In the midst of the conflict between the hardliners, it seems that there are few moderate voices in either camp.

What both sides should do is to turn some of the moderate rhetoric in their own camps into the foundation of a national understanding and dialogue.

It seems that, at the end of the day, both sides must live together for the foreseeable future. Both will be responsible in various degrees for the reconstruction or further destruction of their country.

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