The Female Paramedics Of Tahrir Square

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“We have come here with a goal in mind and we will not leave until we have achieved it,” says Tiba Fadel determinedly; the 18-year-old Baghdad local is one of the dozens of young women committed to nursing and providing first aid to anti-government protesters in the Iraqi capital’s Tahrir Square.

Even though she has been threatened and harassed, both online and in real life, for her nursing role, Fadel is still here. Her brother is protesting and has been injured six times. And one of her colleagues died in front of her. “Pieces of his brain and skull were splattered on the ground in front of me,” she recalls. “I cannot forget the ugly way he died and his mother, who was waiting for his return. I have already told my mother to expect the worst and the possibility that both myself and my brother might die. When the doorbell rings now, she gets scared. But,” she concluded, “we will not retreat.”

My parents will only know what I am doing after they receive my body, if I die here.

When she first came to Tahrir Square, Fadel didn’t know anything about first aid – she was in her last year of high school. But now, having learned how to help during the protests, she would like to study medicine.  

Fadel is just one of many. Visiting Tahrir Square, you can see dozens of local women performing a nursing role or trying to help, often as well as demonstrating themselves. Their white coats are stained with blood and they run from one tent to another treating the injured as best they can. When we visited, one woman dashed past to help with an injury. Another was preparing to accompany an injured protester to the hospital to treat a more serious wound – they were both scared he would be arrested there.

Another of the nurses here is Zainab Abdul Dawood al-Qaisi. She is a mother of three and actually works for a government office. She’s not a real nurse either but is committed to the cause. She was shot and had to have two operations as a result but returned to help again anyway. “I came back two days after my operation despite the pain and the risk,” she explains. “There are people here who need my help and when I am here, my own injuries do not hurt as much.”

 

 

Her husband and her family actually don’t like her coming here and some relations have stopped visiting her at home as a result, she says. Nonetheless al-Qaisi is determined to keep working here – she’s been here since the first day of the protests and plans to stay until the last.

Israa Ibrahim brings her pre-school aged daughter and her elderly parents to Tahrir Square every day while she works as a first aid nurse. She says she has been verbally abused and humiliated by the military forces around the square but she continues to attend.

Ibrahim graduated from university with a  degree in finance and banking but she still has not been able to get a decent job, despite increasing demand for her skill set. “Every time I submit my CV, I am asked to pay a bribe or else the job goes to a relation of the bank’s managers,” she complains. “There are hundreds of people here in the square who have had to deal with a similar situation – graduates who are unemployed for the same reasons.”

Meanwhile Dua al-Ali has had to block her whole family from her social media accounts. The fine arts student first came to Tahrir Square as a protester but has since learned a lot about first aid and taken on a paramedic role, and she doesn’t want her family finding out what she is doing or worrying about her. She comes here to help every day but tells her family she is going to university.

“My parents will only know what I am doing after they receive my body, if I die here,” she proclaims.  “I am here for the sake of my brothers and my family. It is my duty and my responsibility and I cannot abandon them.”

There is also another aspect to the nursing work they do here, all of the women agree.

“Our presence here is another revolution against a deep-rooted social tradition about female roles,” Fadel explains. “You can see that based on the messages I used to get on Facebook. At first I would get negative comments and insults but now people are saying they are proud of what we are doing. That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t made the commitment to be here and help.”


source: Niqash

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A One-Woman Business To Give Other Iraqi Girls Hope

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It can be hard for young Iraqi graduates to get a job – in Iraq’s oil-dependent, rentier economy, the government still provides most of the employment and as the population grows, there simply are not enough jobs to go around. It’s one of the main reasons for current anti-government protests.

One young Baghdad woman, Duha Mustafa Fadel, decided to forge her own path after graduation. She now has her own business, making natural soap and skin care products locally. She sells soap made with fennel, lemon, coffee, active coal, strawberry, honey and Moroccan clay, among other varieties, via Facebook and at drugstores and beauty clinics around the country. She told NIQASH how she got started, where she hopes to go and why there is hope for young Iraqis in the private sector.

NIQASH: How did all this begin for you?

Duha Mustafa Fadel: After I graduated, coming first in my class, I didn’t want to wait around for the government  to offer me a job, as so many other people do. I worked for another company for a while and managed to save some money. Then I travelled to India with my husband – he was studying there – where I was introduced to all kinds of natural oils and where I joined a training on the manufacture of natural products. Upon my return to Iraq, I got started. I opened a small workshop in my own home and created two Facebook pages to market my products. One of the first people to contact me was a woman from Diwaniyah. She said she was interested in the products but couldn’t afford to pay to get them from Baghdad to Diwaniyah and asked if there was any chance I would open outlets in other parts of Iraq. So that’s what I did.

NIQASH: What was the budget for your project?

Fadel: Around US$3,400. That was what I could afford and I used the money to buy raw materials and workshop supplies.

NIQASH: When you first started work, what were some of your biggest challenges?

Fadel: Basically trying to build trust that it was a locally made product and that it was good. Shop owners that I tried to stock would ask me whether it was really made in Iraq, or if it was imported. When I told them it was made in Iraq, they were often reluctant. However when they did try it, they liked it a lot and would always order more.

NIQASH: Did you do any research on the market or whether Iraqis even wanted something like this before you began?

Fadel: Yes, I tried to do a feasibility study and when it comes to the tastes of customers, I started with what I liked first, and what people close to me liked. Then eventually, as the business grew, I began to get more insights into what customers wanted  and I built my knowledge of the market that way.

NIQASH: What sort of plans do you have for the future growth of your business?

Fadel: I’d really like to open a proper factory in Iraqi Kurdistan to make soap and skin care products and then market them in Arab countries, and also internationally. I lived in Iraqi Kurdistan for two years and I have good contacts there. The conditions for opening a factory are easier up north too.



NIQASH: A lot of other Iraqis would be looking at your success with admiration and they might possibly also want to ask you for a job. Where do you find your employees?

Fadel: At first, a friend was helping me and as the business grew, I began to hire young female graduates. As our activities continue and grow, the number of staff should also increase. I’ve also been very lucky in that my husband and parents support my work unconditionally.

NIQASH: What advice would you give to other Iraqi women who might be thinking about starting their own businesses? 

Fadel: I would advise them not to hesitate. I would advise them to work hard and to unleash their talents and creativity. The beginning is always hard but over time, things get easier and your business will grow, especially if you have done good advance planning and research. Women who become financially independent can be a source of pride for their families and, of course, for themselves too.


source: Niqash

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How One Iraqi Teen Found A New Life In Protest

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The teenager used to sit in her bedroom, reading books and listening to international pop music, mostly in English. It was natural. After all, Mariam Firas was only 16 years old.

However recently the young woman has undergone what may best be described as a change in personality – and it is all due to the anti-government demonstrations happening in her hometown, Baghdad.

Firas says she first heard about the anti-government protesters and their demands on social media, via Facebook in particular. The information coming through social media accounts was different to that available on Iraq’s mainstream channels and websites and she watched all of it with great interest.

These women are no longer just seen as potential wives. They are seen as equals and colleagues.

“What really compelled me was the fact that people were demanding their rights and they refused to be silent,” she explains how she was drawn in. “When people began to die in Nasiriyah, myself and other students I knew decided we too should act – so we organized our own demonstration at school.”

Almost overnight, her family says, Firas became a different person to the isolated teen who had once engaged in self-harm, cutting her arm with a sharp blade. Firas began to lead student demonstrations, during which she loudly demanded that perpetrators of violence and injustice be brought to account.

Her grandmother recalls accompanying Firas on one protest, which highlighted the killing of a student at another Baghdad school. Firas told her grandmother to return home and was unafraid to remain alone, holding a picture of the dead student and shouting slogans.

Previously Firas says, her life was well planned out. She was excellent academically and behaved, a good daughter for her mother, an engineering graduate who had struggled to get her own degree in a male-dominated system.  But now Firas has stopped listening to English-language pop songs or worrying about when she will next get to visit the local shopping mall. Now the teenager mostly listens to revolutionary songs coming from the various protests and her mobile is a library of numerous music files, along with videos and pictures from the demonstrations.

She has also discovered a new interest in local feminism, watching how women protesters have taken their place proudly alongside Iraqi men in various provinces. These women are no longer just seen as attractive partners or potential wives, Firas argues. They are seen as equals and colleagues, with the women’s role complementing that of the men’s.

Firas has carved out her own niche at local demonstrations. She has used her English language skills to translate protest slogans for an international audience and she and her fellow students also collect donations to help fund protest activities. “We save a little of our allowances and send them to Tahrir Square so the protesters can use our money to buy food,” she explains.

Firas is very different from the girl she was before. The young woman is enthusiastic about life and before she leaves the house to go to a protest, she always asks her family if anybody wants to join her. She won’t hesitate to ask them hard questions either – such as, why did you keep silent all this time about the situation in our country? Usually nobody answers. But one thing is clear: Her family is proud of their daughter’s new momentum and her ability to confront difficult challenges.


source: Niqash

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One Iraqi Woman’s Decision To Take Off The Veil

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When she was a child in Najaf, Rua Zuhair thought that all women, all around the world, wore a veil over their hair. Her mother simply had her wear it from when she was a young girl and it was only later on that she realized this wasn’t true.

Zuhair, now a 32-year-old journalist living in Baghdad, was raised in a wealthy and conservative family in the southern city of Najaf. Her family was educated and liberal-leaning but Najaf itself is well known as a centre of religious learning and therefore more conservative – covering one’s hair was standard practice for females living here. After 2003, and the end of the somewhat more secular regime headed by Saddam Hussein, Najaf society became even more conservative. It was no longer enough for women to simply wear an abaya, the loose robe-like garment worn over the top of other clothes. Now, females also had to wear a headscarf under their abaya and they were also not allowed to show their feet. Thick socks became obligatory and high heels were disallowed, along with wearing nail polish and singing.

She wondered whether the world would feel different once she left the house with her hair uncovered.

Somehow though, Zuhair, an avid reader as a teenager, who saved her pocket money to buy books and magazines, always questioned the idea.

After graduating high school, Zuhair was accepted into Baghdad University’s journalism school  but she ended up in Najaf, studying literature instead, because her father told her she could either study close by her home, or not at all.

“So I gave in, simply so that I could continue my education,” she explains. When not at university, she helped look after her brothers and sisters and managed her father’s car parts workshop. Then, after she completed her university studies, she found a job as a reporter at a local TV channel. However conservative relatives who were offended at a female relative in the workplace in any function, asked her father to stop her. Under pressure from their family, Zuhair gave up her first job.

However she didn’t give up on writing and continued to send her poetry and stories to local newspapers and magazines. Her husband-to-be was an editor at one of the publications and read her poems as she submitted them. This is how the couple met, eventually married, and then moved to Baghdad.

It was here that Zuhair was once again able to take up her chosen profession in the media – today she works for the communications authority in Baghdad and has won many prizes for her work. Moving to the big city also allowed her another freedom: To take off the veil she had worn since she was very small, but had always questioned.    

“I styled my hair carefully and looked at myself in the mirror so many times before I finally felt ready to leave the house without a veil,” she recalls the moment. “Then I did it.”

She says she wondered whether the world would feel different once she left the house with her hair uncovered. “I felt a sort of freedom as the wind blew it around,” she says. “But really I was in the middle of Baghdad, it’s a huge city and people didn’t notice me at all. It was just how I felt – different inside.”

Zuhair argues that taking off her veil wasn’t really a rebellion against her family, more against social mores and traditions that she felt stifled women. In fact, she notes, her parents didn’t even object.

“Objections came from other relatives and from some other members of society,” she recounts. “But my husband always supported my decision and he even thought it would be nice if I cut my hair fashionably short. So I did and when I did, I gave the braided hair to my father.”

Zuhair hasn’t said farewell to the veil forever though; when she returns to Najaf with her two children to visit family, she puts it back on again.


source: Niqash

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Curses On Anniversary Of Basra Ship’s Sinking

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It is over two years since the sinking of the service ship, Al Misbar, after a collision with a tanker, the Royal Arsenal, near Basra. Twenty-one people were killed in the incident and even today, it still haunts those who were involved.

The Al Misbar was bringing port employees from an offshore oil terminal to Basra’s Umm Qasr port when it failed to see the huge tanker bearing down on it. Despite evasive action being taken, the tanker’s prow holed the other boat, which began to sink. A Navy rescue boat was despatched from the port and managed to pick up some of the 23 crew and eight passengers on board, within ten minutes of the sinking.

Even as she was sinking, the bow of the Al Misbar had remained suspended and just as the rescuers were leaving, they heard a knocking on the hull; they realized somebody must still be trapped inside. After cutting a hole in the side of the boat, they managed to extract Ali Abdul-Kareem, the ship’s engineer.

“I went below to get something while the captain and the crew were eating their dinner near the wheelhouse,” Abdul-Kareem says today. “I was so lucky to survive. When I realized the boat was sinking I moved to the parts that seemed to be remaining afloat. I am so lucky to be alive.

Jawad Kathem, a captain and the harbour pilot who was on board the Royal Arsenal that fateful night, said that the accident happened because of the route taken by the Al Misbar. Kathem says that by naval law, the smaller ship should have changed course because it is far easier and faster for smaller vessels to do this than the huge tankers. However, despite repeated calls on the radio, the Al Misbar never changed course and the Royal Arsenal was unable to do so fast enough to avoid the collision.

The Royal Arsenal was held in Basra for investigation for over a year and its crew was also detained. Eventually though, it was released, after much criticism from the ship’s owners about a lack of transparency and the unseaworthiness of the Al Misbar. The Royal Arsenal was found to bear around three-quarters of the fault for the accident, even though it was the Al Misbar that should have changed course, critics of the judgment said.

Basra locals believe that those on the Al Misbar who drowned are still haunting the seas. When the Royal Arsenal finally left Iraqi waters, it hit another tanker in the nearby Strait of Hormuz and started a fire.

But Kathem, a long time seafarer, has a different theory: “That is just fate on the high seas,” he suggests. “And nobody can prevent it.”


source: Niqash

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Meeting The Youngest Policeman In Basra

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The teenager stands in front of the mirror, adjusting his cap – left, right, left. Finally satisfied, Mujtabi Mohammod Abdul Hussein puts the finishing touches to his uniform and goes to direct traffic at one of the city of Basra’s many busy crossroads.

Abdul Hussein isn’t even 15 yet and he is still attending school. But today, he is also stationed at a crossroads in the centre of the southern city and directing drivers with his whistle and hand signals.

He prefers this work to playing video games. He wants to serve his country.

Abdul Hussein says he became obsessed with the idea of becoming a policeman through watching movies and soap operas. “I dreamed of being a policeman and bringing criminals to justice,” he says. “I was so impressed by how devoted these men are to the law and what is right.”

Abdul Hussein’s mother, Hawa, works as a teacher and she admits that her son became a little bit obsessed with the idea of being a policeman. At first she was worried because his passion did not seem to be helping with his schooling. She consulted specialists who suggested he might be acting this way because he sensed a lack of protection thanks to an absent father.

But she has decided to let him find his own way. “He’s just a teenager and his personality is still forming,” she explains, “so I am not going to put any pressure on him.”

In fact, the head of Basra’s traffic police, Adel Fayad al-Soudani, says that Abdul Hussein’s mother was an integral part of the reason why he decided to let the teen work on his force during his free time and over the holidays. “It was important that his parents supported the idea,” al-Soudani told NIQASH.

The public relations department also thought it was a great idea to get the local traffic officers some good publicity and as a result, al-Soudani says, “Abdul Hussein is now the youngest traffic officer in Basra-  but he does not have a military rank. We have given him some private lessons and he is now out on the streets, working hard.”

Before being allowed to volunteer, Abdul Hussein had to pass a number of tests and learn traffic laws. He prefers this work, he says, “to playing video games or wasting my time. I want to serve my country,” he says. Eventually he would like to became an intelligence officer, he concludes.

“The traffic department needs more staff and the most positive thing about this initiative is the fact that it involves the young people of this city,” says

Bassem Shayah al-Maliki, the local traffic commissioner. The only thing al-Maliki worries about is how long Abdul Hussein wants to volunteer with the department for. “Traffic police work long hours and he might get sick of that,” he muses. “His circumstances or wishes might also change.”

For the time being though, Abdul Hussein is more than happy: He gets to wear his uniform and do an important job for his city, while dreaming of eventually becoming a detective or a spy at the same time.


source: Niqash

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Iraq’s One-Woman Anti-Emigration Campaign

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After he had finished studying, Ahmad al-Kalamashi, 27, decided he must leave Iraq. He had been an excellent student but he felt despondent about the economic and political problems in his homeland. He had already completed all his papers in the hope of being able to leave the country permanently when he ran into Sundus Latif al-Saifi, a 50 year-old Iraqi woman. That was when all of his pans changed.

“I insisted that I wanted to leave the country but al-Saifi did her best to persuade me not to,” al-Kalamashi admits shyly. “She became a mentor of mine and thanks to her good advice, I was eventually able to find a good job in a company here.” He is now studying engineering at university as well as working and he’s very happy he never left for Europe. “Her advice was so valuable,” he says.

They think they will find a better life in Europe or the US or other nations. But what they tend to overlook are the stories of the large numbers who have failed.

Al-Saifi is a local civil society activist and she says she has travelled around Iraq trying to convince Iraqis not to emigrate. The mother-of-four believes she may have prevented as many as 4,000 Iraqis of all ages from leaving forever and she says that often she does this by helping them find new opportunities. She understands why people want to leave but she thinks that sometimes they are not realistic about their dreams for what will happen once they get out of the country.

“I have been shocked by the high number of young Iraqis who want to emigrate,” she told NIQASH. “They think they will find a better life in Europe or the US or other nations. They’re boiling with enthusiasm and they have great ambitions, especially when they hear the success stories from those who have gone before them and achieved good things outside of Iraq. But what they tend to overlook are the stories of the large numbers who have failed.”

For Armenian-Christian man, Tony Sarkisian, 28, emigration seemed like the next logical step after seeing so many of his friends leave for the US, after 2003. The church bells in his hometown of Basra stopped ringing months ago.

 

 

The security situation deteriorated and Christians were often targets, he explains. That’s why so many Iraqi Christian families left. “I decided to join the convoy,” he says, “even though I knew it was a long, hard road. Al-Saifi had a different opinion though and I will never forget her advice. But I also won’t forget her moral support and her logical arguments about life for Iraqis in the diaspora and the difficulties there, contrary to what some people think. Also, Iraq needs her sons!,” he concluded.

So Sarkisian has stayed in Iraq and is currently working in the field of human rights. He says he had been depressed, but then he decided to take a more active role as a citizen and work towards the creation of a better Iraq.

Al-Saifi’s efforts are not just psychological. Natheer Younis, a local Sabaean-Mandean man in his 60s, tells NIQASH that he used to work as a goldsmith in Baghdad. But after he was robbed, he decided the job was too risky and started to make plans to leave Iraq, together with his family of six. His children had all graduated university but, apart from one daughter, none had been able to find jobs.

“We had completed the immigration papers for Europe, when al-Saifi found what seemed to be a better alternative,” Younis explains. “She offered us a place to live in Basra and found me a job as an accountant with one of the companies there. We agreed to her proposal and we moved to Basra instead.”

Despite the difficulties of adjusting to a new home, Younis says that he and his family are happy with the decision not to leave Iraq. “And that wouldn’t have happened without al-Saifi’s help,” he says. “She’s done us a great service and we will never forget it.”


source: Niqash

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A Meeting With The Last Coppersmith In Basra

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In one of the lanes of the busy Ashar market in central Basra, a customer watches on with interest as Mustafa Sabah spins an old copper pot, between his hammer and his anvil. The sun reflects on the other brassware and copper in his stand, and the scene is charming, as the young man practises the ancient craft his family has undertaken for generations.

Sabah is the last such coppersmith left in this market in Basra. Although cheap, imported products cannot compete with the handmade goods, Sabah told NIQASH that times were hard for craftspeople like him, and getting harder.

NIQASH: You have inherited this family tradition. What memories do you have about this work?

Mustafa Sabah: When I was a child, I remember that moment that my grandfather would open his shop every morning, and there were always a lot of people, including foreigners, who would be waiting for him to open so that he could repair their copper tools or they could buy new ones. My grandfather would always joke with them.

I learned a little bit from him, but mostly from my father who took his place when he died. My brothers got jobs in public service and they didn’t want to work in the shop. So I learned how to do this, even though I also continued my university studies.



NIQASH: So how are things different today?

Sabah: We used to make all these tools and utensils from scratch . But now most of our work is about repairing or maintaining the old tools. We also sell cheaper versions of the pots, which are imported from India and China. Customers like them because of the price. There are some still customers who prefer handmade products though – they like them for their aesthetic value and their quality, and they still order from us.

NIQASH: What are your most popular products? 

Sabah: Older items, like the large bowls that the people of Basra used to use as a wash basin. Our wealthier customers like to buy these engraved with Islamic inscriptions and they usually only use them for decoration, I believe.

We also have some more traditional items: Old trumpets that used to be used during military ceremonies, a rose-water sprinkler for weddings and on some religious occasions, and we even have miniatures of one of the city’s famous mosques.

Coffee pots are still one of our most popular products though because everybody uses these, although poorer people tend to buy those made in China now. Other customers with more money like to see these decorated with words or drawings and we also make over-sized versions that are usually used as décor.

Most of my customers are Iraqis, even though sometimes they come from out of town,  specifically to buy these kinds of handmade coffee pots. Because you just can’t get them everywhere these days. I also get foreigners – they usually work at international companies and are based here – coming in here to buy souvenirs, like brass plates that have pictures of local sites and personalities on them.  

NIQASH: And how much does all this cost?  

Sabah: Prices differ. Some of the plates I sell for a lot, even up to or over US$1,000. Other things are a lot less – like the imported items don’t cost more than US$5.

NIQASH: It must be hard to compete with those kinds of imports?

Sabah: If things go on like this, I am thinking about closing my shop actually. I can’t afford to keep it open. We don’t get as many foreign tourists coming anymore and the whole market is now full of really inexpensive things. My hammer is not needed any more and I worry that very soon I am going to be joining the ranks of Iraqi craftspeople, who used to make beautiful things, but who have been losers in this battle with machinery.

NIQASH: Is there any way of saving crafts like yours, and others’?

Mustafa: I don’t know. But I think there should be more control over imports. Perhaps the government should impose tariffs the same way other countries do.

I do have a workshop in my house and my nephews are learning how to do this. If I have children, I will teach them too. My grandfather used to urge us to carry on with this family tradition. He said we needed the hammer to hit the copper and to fill the market, and people’s heats, with the echoes. It’s difficult to imagine this market without such crafts.


source: Niqash

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Distance Between Iraq’s Politicians And Iraq’s Protesters Continues To Grow

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Almost six weeks have passed since the start of the anti-government protests in Baghdad and the distance between the protesters, and what they want, and the authorities, and what they believe the protesters should get, continues to grow.

The Iraqi prime minister announced that he would resign. But demonstrations have continued because as those participating say, it is the whole system that they believe is rotten. They want to see changes made to electoral laws and other basic rules. At the same time, Iraq’s political class is insisting on maintaining as much of the status quo as they think they can.

Proposed rules on elections are an example of how far apart the two sides are. The protesters want a new law that would enable genuine representation for voters and they even have a first draft of it, which they are circulating, asking other protest groups elsewhere to give an opinion, via lawyers or constitutional experts. They are seeking comprehensive political change and their new electoral law would make it possible to push Iraq’s established political parties out of power. 

In Baghdad, the rules of the game don’t seem to have changed. Nor does there seem to be any acknowledgement that they should.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliamentarians are also discussing a new electoral law and they have a draft too. However their draft electoral law is very different from the protesters’ version and appears to have been written with a view to keeping established parties in power. Opinions from outside established political circles – for instance, the protesters’ or the public’s – have not been solicited.

Two factors have made a major impact in the last fortnight: Firstly, the resignation of the prime minister which has been perceived as a victory for the protesters and secondly, the fact that dozens of protesters were killed in Najaf and Nasiriyah. The death are changing general public opinion about the demonstrations.

Memorials have been held all around the country, even in Sunni Muslim-majority cities and provinces, like Mosul, Salahaddin, Diyala and Anbar, where locals did not really protest but instead showed solidarity with the protesters down south in  variety of different ways.

Meanwhile in the corridors of power in Baghdad, nothing really seems to have changed. Every time Iraqi politicians select a new prime minister, there are heated discussions, meetings and long negotiations. Multiple names have been suggested for the job and most are part of the long-standing political establishment. In Baghdad, the rules of the game don’t seem to have changed. Nor does there seem to be any acknowledgement that they should.

A few days after prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned, Iranian military leader Qassim Soleimani arrived in Baghdad – this too, is according to local political tradition, as Iraq’s allies and neighbours always want a say in the selection of any new leader. And some of  the country’s politicians are still doing their best to discredit the protests, saying they were initiated by foreign agents, implying that the demonstrators are guilty of treason.

On the streets of the country, the scene is very different. Protesters are responding to the talk of ongoing negotiations in Baghdad with jokes. They scoff at the idea that the political establishment will remain in power and that a new prime minister will be selected as usual, and that this could even come close to satisfying the demands of the anti-government demonstrators – or that it would make the protesters forget those who have been killed.

 

 

Last week, the first rain of winter fell in Baghdad. No doubt the authorities were hoping the watery weather would discourage protesters and that they might return home. Instead they donned raincoats and prepared for a drop in temperature.

Given the intractable positions taken by both sides, how could this deadlock end?

In Iraqi history, major political changes have tended to lead to reprisal and revenge.

Up until now, the protesters have not formed any sort of body that could ostensibly represent them in negotiations with politicians. In some ways, the protesters seem to see this as a strong point. The majority of them are younger men with little or no political experience. There’s such a deep seated distrust of politics that even the protesters fear that, if they elect representatives, these may be susceptible to offers of money or power and that they could “sell the protests out”, as has happened previously in Iraq. Additionally, by not engaging in negotiations, they don’t get caught up in potentially months-long and difficult discussions with a government that is, many of them say, the best at procrastination and delay.

The current administration, and past ones, may have been proven a failure. But most of the demonstrators are not clear on how to remedy this, nor do they know how to prevent the manipulations of Iraq’s politicians. What some might describe as naivete has also been seen – at some demonstrations, protesters have been setting up theatrical scaffolding and “executing” dolls with politicians’ faces on them.

It is not hard to imagine that these kinds of actions – the threat of execution and prosecution – will only make those in power more intransigent. And that is apart from all the other good reasons for politicians’ stubbornness: Well-established parties have been in power in Iraq for 16 years and they will not easily surrender the wealth, position and power they have amassed over that time.

 

In Iraqi history, major political changes have tended to lead to reprisal and revenge. After the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the fall of his nationalist Baath party, Iraq saw several years of bloodshed and violence, with deaths on all sides. Prior to this, Saddam and the Baath party did the same thing when they seized power in the early 1960s, murdering and imprisoning thousands of Iraqis who they considered their enemies. And in 1958, when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown, members of the Iraqi royal family were also murdered, their bodes dragged down streets or hung from power poles, in scenes that older Iraqis still remember with horror.

A complete overhaul of the current Iraqi system, established in 2003 after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime, could ostensibly make thousands of political party members, military service people and even civil servants into “the enemy” – perhaps an enemy that will have to be fought. The country’s politicians are only too well aware of this danger. They are trying to prevent any such breakdown but at the same time, they appear to be refusing to make even the smallest concessions to their opponents, who simply carry on, in the country’s’ squares and streets. 


source: Niqash

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In Dhi Qar, Volunteers Set Up ‘School Of October Revolution’

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For Amar al-Uqaili, an Arabic teacher in Dhi Qar province, making sure that his students keep up with schoolwork has been almost as important as attending the anti-government protests in the centre of Nasiriyah city. He believes his duties as a teacher are as important as his duties as citizen; the teachers’ union has also called on its members to strike. For that reason he, and a number of other teachers, have set up a small classroom in one corner of Habboubi Square, which is being used as a base by local demonstrators.  

Plastic chairs were donated and a tent was set up on a side road, a little further away from the main action, so that lessons were not interrupted.

Some locals have started to call the set-up “School of the October Revolution” and al-Uqaili says that this reflects the reality of the protests.

The teachers are putting a lot of effort into the lessons because they want to give us the information as quickly and simply as possible.

Lessons begin at 8am and continue until noon, in a similar way to how public schools normally operate. Each lesson takes an hour, which is 15 minutes longer than normal school classes – the extra time is supposed to compensate for the disruption caused by the demonstrations.

The teachers’ union here is striking because of the conditions in which they are forced to work. Classrooms are overcrowded and pupils often have to learn in shifts. There’s also a shortage of schools and of school equipment. Buildings are dilapidated, the curricula are not properly set and remain ambiguous, and teachers say the local government has a bad attitude toward the education system.

“Changes are continuously being introduced to our curriculum and that causes problems for the students,” explains Mona Abdul-Fawazi, another local Arabic teacher. “And so much time is lost due to closure for the holidays and other occasions. Often we are forced to teach modules that are predetermined but that don’t suit the grades and the abilities of our students.”

 

 

Further out in the square, some of the school students who have been protesting are trying to encourage each other to attend lessons at the temporary classroom. “The importance of attending classes relates to the importance of these protests,” explains Mohammed Ibrahim, a teenager. “We refuse to be part of the chaos and it is our responsibility to continue our education. Nobody should have a reason for abandoning their studies and their future,” he argued.

Jafar Nasser said that when he saw his classmates studying in the tent, he felt more enthused than he usually did in school. He said he appreciated the efforts of the teachers here in the square and was pleased that it was possible to protest and learn at the same time. “All this will ultimately help us build our country and make it a  beautiful one,” he told NIQASH.

Once the makeshift classroom was set up, other teachers who specialize in different subjects – maths, chemistry and English – also volunteered their time.

On Facebook, Iraqi parents have been questioning the protests because they believe their children won’t finish their studies, says Osama Rahim, an Arabic teacher. “This is part of why we decided to do this. We’ve brought our study plans with us,” he added.

Another pupil at the school, Zulfiqar Ali, says he isn’t actually here to protest: his family wouldn’t allow him to. But his house is very near and when he saw the school he decided to come and join in the lessons. He had been missing out on classes because of the teachers’ strike anyway, he explains. “In the end, I was able to convince my family to let me be here,” he says.

In fact, he notes, the lessons here may be even more useful than at his real school. The teachers are putting a lot of effort into the lessons because they want to give us the information as quickly and simply as possible, he says. “They also interact with us a lot more. At my real school, a lot of the teachers wouldn’t really even talk to us that much because they needed to finish the lessons as quickly as possible and move onto the next class!”

 


source: Niqash

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