2004 January 19 Monday
Sharia Family Law Coming To Iraq

Life is going to go backward for Iraqi women now that the more secular regime has been overthrown and democracy is in the offing.

BAGHDAD, Jan. 15 -- For the past four decades, Iraqi women have enjoyed some of the most modern legal protections in the Muslim world, under a civil code that prohibits marriage below the age of 18, arbitrary divorce and male favoritism in child custody and property inheritance disputes.

Saddam Hussein's dictatorship did not touch those rights. But the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council has voted to wipe them out, ordering in late December that family laws shall be "canceled" and such issues placed under the jurisdiction of strict Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.

The Bush Administration, whose obvious official view is that religion is, by its very nature, inherently good, is probably going to gloss over the mounting problems posed by Islam to the reformation of Iraq into a semi-liberal democracy. Many conditions in Iraq are not encouraging for the development of a society where individual rights (especially for women) are respected. Iraq will most likely end up with the outward form of democracy. But the resulting government will not operate at all according to ideals that many Westerners assume are the natural outcome of democracy. That democracy will produce illiberal results in Arab societies is predictable in advance. As Stanley Kurtz has argued Germany and Japan were possessed of essential qualities at the end of WWII that Iraq does not now possess. Successful efforts at societal transformation take a long time and it seems very unlikely that the US is going to stay in Iraq all that long, let alone actually start making the kinds of deep changes to Iraqi society that will require decades to become permanent. The neoconservatives are instead ready to launch new wars since wars are quicker and more fun than the tedious work of trying to develop roots for liberalism in illiberal societies.

Cousin marriage such a huge obstacle and the Sunni distrust of democracy as assuring Shia dominance is such another large obstacle that I question whether Iraq should even be maintained as a single country. Partition may produce the best results given the limit on the depth of the kinds of changes that the Bush Administration is trying to make to Iraqi society.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 January 19 10:38 AM  Mideast Iraq Freedom Rights

Wes Ulm said at January 20, 2004 9:11 PM:

I guess this is just a classic exemplar of the unintended consequences that are always inevitable whenever a longstanding political order is uprooted. The Baath party, for all its thuggishness, was nonetheless secularly thuggish. By itself this doesn't imply that Saddam's regime was a preferable alternative to whatever replaces it; Saddam was a fiend, and whether a Baathist secular authoritarian government or a Taliban Islamic religious authoritarian government cuts off a guy's hand as a demonstration of ruthlessness, the poor guy's gonna be 5 fingers short either way. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, period.

But it seems perplexing that Saddam's regime, while so brutal and repressive in so many respects, was still oddly "emancipative" toward women. Especially relative to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and most other nations in the region, which were far more restrictive of women's freedoms. Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed back in October of 2002, “Iraq’s Little Secret,” which was full of these surprising little credulity-twisters. Iraqi girls and women received equal education as boys, could drive, could serve in the military, take part in sports, own property, and be mens’ superiors in many lines of work. They took part disproportionately in the medical and scientific professions (even Saddam’s germ warfare specialist, of all people, was female), and faced none of the extreme restrictions on attire encountered in neighboring nations. Obviously all of this wasn’t a product of Saddam’s enlightened consciousness; it’s just that these practices were in place before Saddam’s ascendancy, and the Baathists didn’t mess with them. It’d be an odd and unfortunate twist if Iraq (in some of its regions at least) now paradoxically follows the lead of the Taliban vis-à-vis its social policy even as its political status is opened up. Still, the Shari’a law imposition isn’t a done deal yet; the IGC is vouching for it, but there are many groups still opposing its implementation.

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Randall Parker said at January 20, 2004 9:47 PM:

Wes, The treatment of women in Saddam's Iraq makes sense if you consider that Saddam's own totalitarian rule was so brutal that he didn't need Islam to bolster his position. He had so much power due to his terror that he didn't need to rely on religion as a source of legitimacy and support.

Supporting this view is that the fact during the 1990s Saddam was weakened because of the destruction of the war and the embargo restrictions and during that time he began to promote Islam and to change the law in ways that made Iraq less secular. See my March 1 2003 post Islamist Forces Challenge To Post-War Iraq Reconstruction for a report on Saddam's shift toward the use of Islam for bolstering his position.

fiona macleod said at January 11, 2005 12:50 AM:

I am trying to find out the status of family law provisions in Iraq as at September 2004 and now. Specifically, what the propertly law is when a divorce happens. I would appreciate any information that anyone could pass on.

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