She is only four years old but she is becoming something of an unlikely champion for political opposition in the semi-autonomous, northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In over just a fortnight a Facebook page belonging to Nma Nareeman, a pre-schooler living with her family in Sulaymaniyah, one of the region’s two major cities, collected over 150,000 Likes. The number of her supporters continues to increase and the page is regularly updated with videos and messages from the little girl.
Her father, Nareeman Sabir, who runs a satellite TV channel called Jamawar, explained how his daughter became an unlikely icon for political activists in one of the more liberal cities in Iraq. She and her two sisters were watching a movie on television when there was a power cut, as there so often is in Iraq.
“We were so sad about this and our oldest daughter proposed recording a video demanding that the electricity supply be improved,” he says. “Nma and her sister recorded the conversation on a mobile phone and asked their mother to post it on Facebook. That was the first video.”
Nma’s father says that Nma was always a little different. “When she was really young she was always talking to her aunt, who now lives in the US, online and that’s why she now has the ability to stand in front of the camera and talk to thousands,” he explains.
She used to ask her aunt why the children in the US live a better life than Iraqi kids, Nareeman continues. And why they have power and water when the Iraqi children don’t. That’s why she still asks these questions today. And those innocent questions have struck a chord with many in Iraqi Kurdistan who also want to see their political system reformed, an end to corruption and an improvement in state services.
So far Nma has talked about power supply, water supply and children’s rights. And somehow she is remarkably eloquent when doing so.
Of course not everyone thinks a four-year-old is a suitable political spokesperson. Some locals believe she is being exploited or being put at risk.
“Children shouldn’t be used like this in the media or on social media,” argues Latif Hussein, a sociologist in Sulaymaniyah. “Their childhood is taken away from them in a situation like this.”
There is a law in Iraqi Kurdistan – 2008’s Law for the Prevention of Misuse of Communication Devices – that some fear could be used against the child and her family. However it can’t be used against Nma because she’s just expressing a fairly general opinion about things like power cuts, rather than any kind of political opinion, her father says. Nor is she defaming anyone.
As for laws around the rights of children, Nma’s father says he is well aware of these as he worked in the field for a long time. “She’s not doing anything that contradicts the [Geneva] Declaration of the Rights of the Child,” he insists. “And nor does any political party have any influence on her. She is simply expressing her opinion as a child.”
Additionally Nma’s whole family supports her. Everyone, including himself, his wife and her sisters are helping record the updates and two of her uncles help manage the Facebook page. Almost all of the filming and uploading is done on mobile phones.
“I want Nma to talk about educational issues,” Nareeman admits. “But her mother thinks she should just be allowed to say whatever she likes – mostly she is just upset about the lack of services.”
For now, the family are just allowing their youngest to continue doing as she likes. When she wants to stop, her father says, then she will do so. For now, the family say they also want to ease the pressure on Nma a little bit – because she starts kindergarten soon.