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"The biggest problem we face is keeping our independence": party oppressions of civil society in the ‘new’ Iraq

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Civil society is an indispensable tenet of democratisation. Its weakness in the post-totalitarian context is predominantly understood to derive from a regressive inheritance of ethnic nationalism, civic distrust in voluntary organisations and ideological tension with an illiberal state and illiberal non-state groups. This paper argues that while powerful these explanations are, the more enduring oppressions are those a nascent and inexperienced civil society cannot easily recognise. Perceived as innocuous, they are unlikely to be confronted. A ‘return to the past’ of state dominance in the civil sphere becomes ever-likely. This argument is illustrated through open-ended interviews with the Directors of 24 local civil society organisations across Iraq. The findings suggest that the overt symptoms of post-totalitarian transitions described are well recognised by a civil society that has mobilised against them. By contrast there is greater ambiguity over the creeping in of political parties through their affiliated secular and faith-based organisations. Since 2004, these have more intensively undermined civil society’s independence from the state by exploiting its hazy demarcation with the state left over from its post-totalitarian past. What autonomous liberal civil society remains is charged with confronting both the overt threats described and these veiled party organisations. This dual challenge limits its potential to promote good governance and push back the state, threatening the future quality of democracy in Iraq.

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en

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application/pdf

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/28017/1/DP45.pdf

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