IRAQIS TRANS­FORM BAGH­DAD SQUARE INTO A ‘MINI STATE’ FREE FROM SEC­TAR­IAN STRIFE

▶ Protesters say Tahrir Square stands against tra­di­tional di­vi­sions in Iraqi so­ci­ety, writes Pe­sha Magid in Bagh­dad

The National - News - - NEWS -

Demon­stra­tors have turned Bagh­dad’s Tahrir Square into a mini state where dif­fer­ent re­li­gions work to­gether and women have an equal say.

As protests con­tinue into a sec­ond month, dozens of tents have popped up in the square over the past few weeks, of­fer­ing free ser­vices such as food sup­plies, med­i­cal treat­ment, le­gal ad­vice and even me­dia train­ing to con­vey the protesters’ mes­sage.

But un­like the coun­try, the tents have no cen­tral author­ity to gov­ern them. For the first time since 2003, Iraqis are united in their de­mands for change.

The protests bridge di­vides be­tween dif­fer­ent re­li­gious sects and unite them against the po­lit­i­cal elite’s fail­ure to de­liver ba­sic ser­vices.

Protesters say the square has be­come a rev­o­lu­tion against the gov­ern­ment and tra­di­tional di­vi­sions in Iraqi so­ci­ety.

Men and women min­gle freely and peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds work to­gether to clean the streets.

“The demon­stra­tion is the great­est thing that can hap­pen to Iraq be­cause men and women are sup­port­ing each other,” Nour Faisal, 22, a writer and pro­tester, told The

Na­tional. “We have cut all the red lines.”

Ms Faisal has taken part in the protests since they be­gan on Oc­to­ber 1. She con­trib­utes to a news­pa­per called Tuk-Tuk, which was founded by the protesters.

“Yazidis, Sun­nis, Chris­tians ... we are all here to just be real Iraqis and sup­port each other for free­dom and for a good life,” she said.

Mua­mal Al Su­mari, a stu­dent or­gan­iser, said the demon­stra­tions had dis­man­tled so­cial bound­aries and uni­fied the pub­lic.

“In Tahrir, it’s im­pos­si­ble to be di­vided by sec­tar­i­an­ism or class,” Mr Al Su­mari said.

“There are peo­ple here from all classes but in Tahrir Square they’ve be­come one class with one voice – a united voice.”

He writes for The Peo­ple’s

Way, another news­pa­per founded by the demon­stra­tors.

“The protesters are in­ter­ested in the me­dia,” Mr Al Su­mari said.

In­ter­net re­stric­tions im­posed by the gov­ern­ment forced the pub­lic to cre­ate their own forms of spread­ing news and in­for­ma­tion, he said.

Tahrir Square has tents host­ing protesters, doc­tors, en­gi­neers and ac­tivists, who to­gether sup­port the demon­stra­tors.

“I’ve been stay­ing here to help the protesters who have been in­jured on bridges with sound bombs and tear gas can­is­ters,” Dr Muhamed Al Ma­jed said.

“We give them emer­gency treat­ment with oxy­gen, and, in se­ri­ous cases, we help get them am­bu­lances that will take them to a nearby hos­pi­tal.”

Those facing vi­o­lence on Jumhuriya Bridge are be­ing pro­vided with hel­mets and masks by co-or­di­na­tors.

“Ev­ery­thing is avail­able. Food, cloth­ing, hel­mets, medicine; we have ev­ery­thing,” said stu­dent Ali Shuhany, 21. “Peo­ple want to help. Even if they are scared, they buy things to help peo­ple here.”

At the front of the square, on the edge of the Jumhuriya

Bridge, the 14-storey so-called Turk­ish Restau­rant build­ing has changed since the first days of the protests.

Demon­stra­tors have set up check­points at the en­trances for men and women, and each floor has a co-or­di­na­tor who com­mu­ni­cates with the other floors by walkie-talkie.

“We will have a floor for the artists and the pain­ters, one for the mu­si­cians, one for a li­brary, and we will also have paint­ings of the sup­pressed,” Mo­hamed Al Waely told The

Na­tional.

The build­ing has been aban­doned since 2003 when it was hit dur­ing the US-led in­va­sion. It has now been taken over by the protesters, who have sworn not to leave it.

As the protests de­vel­oped, peo­ple in the build­ing started think­ing big­ger than or­gan­is­ing ba­sic ser­vices.

“We’re not just think­ing about sup­port, like wa­ter and food, we need to think about things clearly,” Mr Al Waely said.

He said protesters in the build­ing started hold­ing open fo­rums on how to pro­ceed with the demon­stra­tions.

“I be­gan by talk­ing to ev­ery­one who was there and they all had dif­fer­ent ideas, but there was an agree­ment to share ideas and to get the pic­ture right,” Mr Al Waely said.

He be­lieves the or­gan­i­sa­tion in Tahrir Square could be­come a sym­bol of what the protesters want to achieve for Iraq as a na­tion.

“This build­ing will be­come a sym­bol for the world to see how the protesters op­er­ate, de­spite the vi­o­lence and sup­pres­sion they face,” Mr Al Waely said.

AFP

Tahrir Square’s 14-storey ‘Turk­ish Restau­rant’ build­ing has be­come a cen­tre for anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions

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