Since October 1, in Baghdad and the Shiite cities of the south of the country, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been demonstrating against the corruption and neglect of the ruling class since the US invasion of 2003. Interview with Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon.
Interview. Born in Baghdad in 1967 and living in exile in the United States after the first Gulf War in 1991, the Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon, winner of the 2017 Arab Literature Prize, is the author of Only the grenadier (South Acts, 2017) andAve Maria (Actes Sud, 2018).
What are the roots of the Iraqi protest?
This protest, which began in October, is the continuation of events that date back at least sixteen years. The impatience of the Iraqis, especially the youth, with the corruption and the inefficiency of the political class, reached the level of the point of rupture. After first fruits in 2011, the protest reactivated several times, as in the summer of 2018 in the south of the country. This time, she left slums and working-class neighborhoods, spontaneously, without political or religious leadership. The brutality of the repression, with the deployment of snipers, increased the mobilization.
Large sectors of the population have since mobilized: students, professors, professional unions, the middle class. Such communion had not been observed in Iraq since the 1920 revolt against the British occupation! After so many years of political confessionalism, it is fascinating and moving to witness this communion between Iraqis who claim patriotism, beyond sects and ethnic groups.
Who leads this challenge?
The driving force of this movement is the younger generation. Before 2011, it was considered by their elders as a lost generation, with a lower level of political or social consciousness. They all surprised us, in 2011 and in the years that followed, by their relationship to the world. This October movement would never have happened without these young people ready to sacrifice their lives.
Why has there been a radicalization of demands since the 2011 protests, from a demand for political and social reforms to the "fall of the regime"?
There was an accumulation effect. Each event acted as a dress rehearsal, expanding the space of the protest, the networks that compose it and creating a new community. It is also an accumulation of frustrations with the inability of the political elite to give consideration to the intelligence and energy of this youth.
Since 2011, none of the protesters' demands have been heard, whether it is access to electricity, water, services or employment opportunities. This regime does not have a reform program. Many scandals of corruption are now known to all: the emperor is naked! His political speech is obsolete. Shiite political parties in power have not even bothered to meet the needs of people in the regions that constitute their electoral base, yet they continue to exploit confessionalism! The elites came to power in the wake of the 2003 US invasion after living abroad for twenty to thirty years. They are completely disconnected from the people and its history. The creation of the "green zone" (highly secure enclave of Baghdad) illustrates this situation well: the elite has sheltered the people, in luxury, and ignores what is happening outside. There is also a generational gap between current political and religious leadership and protesters born after 2003, who have another culture, another language.