I once wrote about protest movements that had erupted in Iraq towards the end of July 2015, which had spread to several governorates including the capital Baghdad. Historically and politically, these were comparable to Al-Wathbah uprising in January in 1948 and to the November 1952 Intifada, which are considered the most important protest movements in Iraq’s modern history as they sought to restore freedoms and national sovereignty and independence.
Impact of protest movements
I do not think that observers who have a modicum of objectivity and fairness can underestimate the significance of the July 31, 2015 and February 25, 2011 protests - the latter complements the former - and treat them like they’re demonstrations of a bunch of people. The February 25 protests, which involved tens of thousands of people and spread from the cities of Mosul up to Basra while being organized for weeks, forced then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who panicked in their wake, to impose a curfew before the movement even started and ordered shooting protestors. Many were killed or injured while several others were arrested.
This is like what happened during the 1948 Al-Wathbah uprising and the Intifada in 1952. The July 31, 2015 movement was far more powerful and lasted for more than two years and a half. It gave rise to strong uprisings including incursion into the Green Zone, sit-ins at its entrance for days and storming of parliamentary buildings and government headquarters.
The government and the parliament were forced to adopt reform bills that included the demands of protestors. However, they did not fulfill their commitments. Both movements demanded reforming the political process by abolishing the sectarian and national quota system, combating administrative and financial corruption, providing public services (electricity, water, health, education, transportation and sanitation), developing national economy to create employment opportunities, bringing down the alarming increase in poverty and unemployment levels, combating terrorism and providing security.
Demonstrations on standby
Now, the Iraqis have started to benefit from the results of these historical protest movements. The recent parliamentary elections gave a strong blow to the influential political class which is highly involved in administrative and financial corruption. A lot of the symbols of corruption, quotas and hate speech were completely wiped out in this election and those who managed to stay did so with great difficulty. This time, we did not see 700,000 or 400,000 or 200,000 votes in favor of the “leader,” whereas the rest had their power diminished as they received less than 100,000 votes.
What is important now is to maintain the strength of the movement by keeping it in standby mode, in case it is needed to rise again. The need might occur at the beginning of the process of forming the new government. If the formation includes the quota system, if the government does not include the appropriate programs for reforms to fulfill the demands of the protest movements and if there are no specific deadlines for achieving these demands, it would then be necessary for the public to take to the streets and to liberation squares, so that the government does what the people want, or quit.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein