Middle East Notes and Comment: Religious Minorities, Religious Majorities
February 15, 2005
A rule of thumb among many observers of the Middle East is that when religious parties are allowed to compete in open and fair elections, they win about 20 percent of the vote. While the number of data points for such an assessment is admittedly limited, it is built on observations in countries as varied as Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco.
The recent elections in Iraq, and the elections scheduled for next summer in the Palestinian Authority, may challenge that assumption. The United Iraqi Alliance coalition that took half the seats in Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly did include a number of secular figures—not least of them Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi—yet there is no disputing the religious character of the slate or the importance of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s imprimatur. Constituent party names like “The Islamic Call” and “The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq” leave little doubt as to their sympathies, and mosque networks were a vital component of the coalition’s get-out-the-vote efforts.