Business

Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air

Description
Saad Salloum gives a personal account of the motives and dynamics of the Iraqi protest movement that found inspiration in the Arab revolutions, but faces suppression by the Iraqi government and is moreover largely neglected by the international
Categories
Published
of 18
All materials on our website are shared by users. If you have any questions about copyright issues, please report us to resolve them. We are always happy to assist you.
Related Documents
Share
Transcript
  This work is licensed under the “Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Germany License”. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air By Saad Salloum Saad Salloum  is an Iraqi journalist and civil society activists based in Baghdad. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Masarat that focuses on culture and religious dialogue, and has directed several lms, including documentaries on Iraqi Christians and media freedoms. Saad Salloum gives a personal account of the motives and dynamics of the Iraqi protest movement that found inspiration in the Arab revolutions, but faces suppression by the Iraqi government and is moreover largely ne-glected by the international press.  Saad Salloum: Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Middle East Ofce, 2012 2 M y friend, the civil activist Fayan al-Sheikh, said, “ It’s alive; like it’s moving and talking. ” We were holding up a sign reading Reform the regime  directly beneath it. It had never before occurred to us to take a closer look at the fourteen bronze mouldings that told the story of Iraq from the dawn of history. “Maybe,” Fayan commented,  “because until now it has been so silent and neglected.” I gazed up at the monument, the creation of sculptor Jawad Salim, as though gripped by an irresistible attraction, a prisoner to its ancient spell. The weather and the reverberations from Baghdad’s daily bombings had begun to erode it, but now it resembled someo-ne who had awoken from a long slumber. It was like an artwork cut off from time and place, an assembly of symbols abused or misinterpreted by successive political regimes, or as Fayan put it, “It’s as though those symbols have waited all this time to derive a new meaning from the masses that gather beneath it and reinterpret it.” Strolling among the demonstrators congregated beneath the monument I listened with fascination to Noman Muna, an architect resident in the UK who returned to Iraq’s capital city to participate in the protest movement. “Their ardour breathes life into this immortal monument.”  I felt as though I was looking at the same place through two windows, that of memory and that of the present. Through the window of memory I gazed out on the last mass rally that was held in this square. Like now it was a time of great upheaval. On January the 27th, 1969 the Baath government that had seized power in a military coup hung nine Jews, amongst them a sixteen year-old boy, convicted of spying for Israel and put their corpses on display with a gory triumphalism. To the outside world this was a declaration of the new regime’s commitment to a hardline foreign policy; the message to the Iraqi people was that the Baath would not hesitate to publicly execute any citizen who dared challenge it. This gruesome celebration initiated the country into an era of radical ideology that peddled hatred and confrontation with the outside world, and which only came to an end with the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Today, the square bears witness to a new confrontation between a population yearning for reform and a government that hangs back, warily observing developments. Even as the demonstrators were coming up with new slogans, swapping text messages and using Facebook pages to coordinate their movements, military units, anti-riot squads, the Federal Police and the emergency and trafc police directorates of the Interior Ministry were nalizing their preparations to eld a force of unprecedented size and power. It was as though the city were under siege. My gaze moved over the slogans and Iraqi ags: there were no American or Israeli ags being burnt, just the desire to rebuild the country after decades of delusive conict designed to cover up the regime’s failure to mount internal reform and endlessly defer discussion of democratic rule. From the Jews dangling in Tahrir Square to the demonstrators setting out to free them-selves from the curse of ideology some forty two years later lies more than a quick transition from memory to present. There is history: three wars (the war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 and the occupation of Iraq in 2003), the thirteen-year long economic embargo between 1990 and 2003, then the civil war between Sunni and Shia that broke out in 2006 against the backdrop of an American occupation, the obliteration of civil society and the middle classes and the disseveration of the country’s social fabric. Just to see the living ame of these young faces, ickering amidst the ashes of war and destruction was enough to ll me with joy, a joy I expressed by dancing and singing with my friends. But before we go on we must ask: What world have these young people been living in? Why do they want to change it? Baghdad will not be another Kandahar Efforts to restrict public freedoms were going unchallen-ged. Whenever civil activists tried to organize protests they were told they needed a license to march, a questio-nable interpretation of the law given that article 38 of the constitution (which charges the state with safeguarding freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate) only talks about giving prior notication. It is not only public freedoms. Moves are afoot to transform Iraq into a religious state along the lines of Iran or Afghanistan. The Babel provincial government blocked the staging of Babel Festival for the Folkloric Arts after religious  Saad Salloum: Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Middle East Ofce, 2012 3 leaders expressed unhappiness with elements of the festival program (in particular, folk dances), which, they claimed, contravened religious custom. In Basra people were prevented from demonstrating against the provincial leadership’s decision to stop a French circus performing after religious leaders objected that it outed Islamic law, and there was public outcry at the similarly religiously motivated decisions to enforce gender segregation at primary schools and close the sports clubs that provided the only outlet for many young people in the conservative southern city. In Baghdad province bars and nightclubs were shut down. Around the country demonstrators took to the streets, inspired by their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt to defend their freedoms. Their chants and slogans expressed solidarity with revolutions throughout the Arab world and warned of their consequences for the authorities. Notable among them was the slogan, “Baghdad will not be another Kandahar”  , a deant response to attempts to forcibly Islamize society, which later became the slogan on the protest movement’s main Facebook page after they began using the website to call for protests against the wave of reactionary local government decrees.  And it was via Facebook, too, that they showed their solidarity when the Arab revolutions were at their peak. Bassam Abdel Razzaq is one of the founders of this Facebook page. A 28 year-old graduate of Baghdad’s College of Fine Art he talks about their achievements with pride and passion: “The older generation did nothing to rid of these regimes, so the time had come for us to take action and rebel.”  Full of life and energy the man known to his friends as Bassam Cinema learned important lessons by closely following developments in other Arab countries. “I would stay awake until dawn following the news of the Arab Spring and go to sleep with the television on. I was utterly captivated by the new youth-driven consciousness being expressed through these re-volutions.”  He acquired knowledge of techniques of confrontation by communicating via Facebook with protestors from around the region: “From the Syrians we learnt to deal with tear-gas using cloth soaked in vinegar. When we go out to demonstrate now we take towels and a bottle of vinegar with us.” Describing the mutual admiration and support between the Iraqis and their comrades in Egypt, he adds: “We were in phone contact with representatives of the  popular front in Tahrir Square and we’d send them declarations of solidarity, released to coincide with their actions. Prior to that we organized a demons-tration outside the Tunisian Embassy in support of the uprising there.”  His friend Shakir al-Daghestani is 24 and studying computer science. Like Bassam he followed every second of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. “We marched from Mutanabbi Street to Tahrir Square in support of Egypt and Tunisia,”   he says. A turning point came with the decision to plan a march on February 14, Valentine’s Day, a public holiday selected for its political and religious neutrality. Their demonstration called for love in an uncaring world: “We have no love, no peace and no rights,”   says a frowning Shaker. Alongside their demands for brotherly love the youth issued a statement listing their immediate demands, including ring the city’s mayor for his ineffectiveness. But for now, they went no further. At this stage, Reform the regime  was a banner headline for a widespread anti- corruption sentiment and was yet to be linked to specic demands. It was after the Valentine’s Day march, after they had reached Tahrir Square and issued demands in the name of love, that they began to call themselves the February 14 Movement. Tapping his spectacles, Shaker talks of the critical moment of transition: “We felt that we were entering a new world. It was the rst march with prearranged chants and slogans and  proper organization. We sensed that we had to think bigger, and so we started planning for February 25.”  They took to the streets, going from neighborhood to neighborhood knocking on doors and meeting with young people. Unlike Bassam, Shaker downplays the role played by Facebook in recruiting:  Saad Salloum: Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Middle East Ofce, 2012 4 “Facebook was just a tool for communication; a means of publishing propaganda and statements and making contact with other groups. Most of the recruitment for the march was eldwork.”   At that time, Baghdad was seething with rage and the rst sparks began to y in the impoverished and neglected neighborhoods of North Baghdad such as Husseiniya and Kariaat where hundreds of residents assembled to demand the resignation of local ofcials and improved service delivery. In Boub al-Sham protestors carried a cofn on which was written. In oil-rich Basra voices were raised calling for a war on corruption, and demonstrators waved yellow cards like football referees signaling a nal warning to the governor and ofcials. Discontent at poor service delivery was on the rise in working class districts throughout the land. February brought major demonstrations in the southern cities of Kut, Diwaniya, Basra, and al-Anbar, in addition to numerous smaller protests in other towns. The criticisms of shrinking civil liberties, corruption and gargantuan parliamentary wages that had hitherto been conned to casual gossip were transmuted into slogans, chants and signs. Most importantly these protests deed the legal requirement to obtain a license, the condition that had blocked hundreds of demonstrations from taking place in previous years.From the rapid political maneuvering that followed it was possible to discern a concerted attempt to rst understand then coopt this grass-roots mobilization. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a directive cutting his monthly salary by half and restoring the balance to the state treasury, to take effect from February 2011. Though this was an admission of the vast gulf that existed between the wages of parliamentarians and senior ofcials and those of minor public servants and the poor, it failed to defuse widespread anger at poor living conditions and government incompetence. The leader of parliament, political parties and prominent parliamentarians offered a number of suggestions for reexamining the salaries of senior state ofcials and reducing the budget of the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, which together accounted for a large proportion of the state budget. The Friday of Rage was rapidly approaching, and with it mounting fears and hopes. Twenty-four hours before the demonstration was due to begin I received a call from Jamal al-Jawhari, from the Al-Amal Association, who told me that the prime minister had asked to meet with civil society leaders. I refused: “He can nd out our demands when we get to Tahrir Square and I can’t go to a televised meeting with the  prime minister at a critical juncture like this. Given their deep aversion to any politician my colleagues would view it in a negative light.”  For my part I was certain that my colleagues from the Civil Initiative to Safeguard the Constitution and other civil society leaders would take this opportunity to deliver a strong message to al-Maliki, and so it turned out. Their demands were clear and unambiguous, they quoted statistics on poverty, unemployment and government corruption, and he listened politely before offering a few answers. Not to be put off they responded by insisting on a comprehensive, long-term program of reforms. The Iraqi street, they said, had grown tired of improvised policies, blunders and poor planning. It was a message that reected their self-condence: In terms of consciousness civil society leadership is streets ahead of a political elite that has lost its way. We offer a comprehensive program for reform while the government has nothing but a collection of confused policies. Thrusting his head forward, with its broad brow and unsmiling face, the prime minister asked if they were planning to participate in the protests the following day. “Of course we are!”   they said as one, an answer that so enraged him he forgot his manners: “I’ve no respect for those who demonstrate!”   This same lack of respect, this fear and needless provo-cation, had a counterpart in the government’s response to the demonstrations. The security forces raised the alert level to 3, reserved for denite or highly probable threats, and maintained themselves in a state of high readiness. The confrontation between the government and the people that these events set in motion, has continued ever since. On the Friday of Dignity I headed to Tahrir Square in the company of reformist thinker Diya al-Shakarji, a member of the committee that drafted the constitution and the only politician brave enough to have resigned from the prime minister’s Islamic Dawa party  Saad Salloum: Beneath the Liberation Monument all that is Solid Vanishes into Air  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Middle East Ofce, 2012 5 to pursue his own secular path. Al-Sharkaji talked of his reaction to the meeting between al-Maliki and the representatives of civil society: “I responded to the unfortunate outburst by my for-mer friend the prime minister in an article entitled You don’t respect us, Prime Minister… and we don’t respect you! ” Icons of the Revolution When the Egyptian police in Alexandria murdered Khalid Saeed I was at a journalists’ dinner in Germany with colleagues from all over the Arab world: Egyptians, Syrians, Tunisians, Algerians and Iraqis. The Egyptian  journalist Mohammed al-Tawq led us off to hold a sit-in outside the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. It was a demonstration that transcended political boundaries, made up of young men from nations that had all known tyranny in their time, but it never occurred to us then that one year on we would all be living in a different world; that Khalid Saeed would be transformed in to an icon of the Egyptian revolution. Bouazizi was just the spark that fell onto a huge pile of straw that stretched the length of the Middle East. There have been many others like Bouazizi before and since; people who chose to turn their back on the world by immolating their bodies. There have been many Khalid Saeeds as well, paying with their lives for uncovering the truth. One of our numbers, a young Kurdish journalist called Sardasht Uthman, wrote a series of courageous articles criticizing the corruption of the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan. His last article was particularly biting. Sardasht was abducted outside the university where he studied and shot in the mouth. Absurdly, the ofcial inquiry concluded that he was a member of an extremist Islamic organization that had purged him for attempting a coup against the group’s leaders. During the lming of my documentary,  Conditional freedom , I went to his house in a poor neighborhood of Irbil, to nd out what his friends and family thought of the investigation into his death. His brother led me upstairs to his study, which was full of world literature and other texts of an obviously liberal nature; completely contradicting the claims made by the investigators. Niyaz Abdallah, a colleague of his who acted as an interpreter in my conversations with his family, told me that Kurdistan had begun to change since Sardasht was killed; that there are now two icons of Iraqi Kurdistan: legendary freedom ghter Mustafa Barzani whose tomb is visited by politicians, Sardasht Uthman, a symbol of freedom of expression for a younger generation. Writing his nal article, it never occurred to Sardasht that he would be changing an entire generation; that his words would ring with such prophetic force and resolution: “I shall write until the day my life comes to an end. I shall place a full stop at the end of the line and it will be up to my friends to pen the one that follows.”  And not only did they write the next line, they began collaborating on The Book of Change .In Baghdad, demonstrations in solidarity with the poet  Ahmed Abdel Hussein were held in Mutanabbi Street, a street famous for its booksellers and as a meeting place for intellectuals of all ages. Ahmed had received threats following the publication of an article implicating political groups in the commission of a robbery at a local bank in which many innocent Iraqis lost their lives and millions of dollars were stolen. The response to these threats was a highly vocal protest dubbed  “the greatest demonstration for freedom of expression in the history of modern Iraq”  . Following the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution, Friday marches in Mutanabbi Street became a regular event, with Ahmed Abdel Hussein and his young comrades from the February Movement leading the crowds through historic Rashid Street and into Tahrir Square where they joined forces with the demonstrators massed beneath the Liberation Monument.We called it the Broom Protest. We would buy brooms from street vendors and carry them like lances, brushes pointing to the sky. When we reached some neglected corner, yet to receive the attentions of the local council, we would set about sweeping it clean. But the symbolism of the brooms targeted more than poor service delivery: we are determined to sweep corrupt ofcials from the streets. It was a declaration that brought all the clichés about our post-modern generation crashing down. We were not supercial, sunk in idleness and political apathy, our knowledge of globalization limited to its culture of consumerism while we remain powerless to control its
Search
Tags
Related Search
We Need Your Support
Thank you for visiting our website and your interest in our free products and services. We are nonprofit website to share and download documents. To the running of this website, we need your help to support us.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support.

No, Thanks
SAVE OUR EARTH

We need your sign to support Project to invent "SMART AND CONTROLLABLE REFLECTIVE BALLOONS" to cover the Sun and Save Our Earth.

More details...

Sign Now!

We are very appreciated for your Prompt Action!

x