The face of de­fi­ance

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - AFP

Women crowded into streets across Iraq on Thurs­day to de­fend their role in anti-gov­ern­ment protests af­ter cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said ral­lies should be gen­der seg­re­gated.

Women crowded into streets across Iraq on Thurs­day to de­fend their role in anti-gov­ern­ment protests af­ter leading cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said the demon­stra­tions should be gen­der seg­re­gated.

Marches in Bagh­dad and the south­ern city of Nasiriyah drew hun­dreds of women who bran­dished posters and chanted in sup­port of their right to de­mand a bet­ter fu­ture.

“We want to pro­tect women’s role in the protests as we’re just like the men,” said Zainab Ah­mad, a phar­macy stu­dent.

“There are ef­forts to kick us out of Tahrir [Square, cen­tre of the protests in Bagh­dad] but we’ll only come back stronger.

“Some people were in­cit­ing against us a few days ago, seek­ing to keep women at home or keep them quiet. But we turned out to­day in large num­bers to prove to those people that their ef­forts will end in fail­ure,” she told AFP.

Mr Al Sadr’s comment, posted on Twit­ter, told male and fe­male pro­test­ers to avoid mix­ing in tents dur­ing sit-ins, prompt­ing an out­pour­ing of de­ri­sion from Iraqis on so­cial me­dia. Iraqi ac­tivists re­sponded by post­ing satir­i­cal pic­tures and shar­ing hash­tags cel­e­brat­ing fe­male pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing #SheIsTheRe­vo­lu­tion and #Daugh­ter­sOfTheNa­tion.

Shortly be­fore Thurs­day’s women’s march be­gan, Mr Al Sadr once again took to Twit­ter to crit­i­cise the protests as be­ing rife with “nu­dity, promis­cu­ity, drunk­en­ness, im­moral­ity, de­bauch­ery ... and non-be­liev­ers”.

In a strange turn, he said Iraq must not “turn into Chicago”, which he said was full of “moral loose­ness”.

Women have been at the fore­front of protests that have gripped the coun­try since Oc­to­ber last year, march­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with men in the largest demon­stra­tions since the US-led in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003.

The upris­ing has brought Iraqis of all back­grounds to­gether, unit­ing Sunni and Shi­ite, rich and poor, men and women in calls for the over­throw of a gov­ern­ment re­garded as cor­rupt and in­ept.

Wav­ing flags and hold­ing up ban­ners, men and women poured through the un­der­pass leading to Tahrir Square.

Sev­eral held up hand­writ­ten posters that read “sep­a­rat­ing re­li­gion and state is much bet­ter then sep­a­rat­ing males and females”.

An­other read “re­volt, re­sist and smile be­cause you are the na­tion, the rev­o­lu­tion will be com­pleted by you”.

Iraqis have con­tin­ued to voice their de­mands in the streets de­spite vi­o­lent crack­downs by the se­cu­rity forces.

More than 500 people have been killed and tens of thou­sands in­jured.

This month, new clashes broke out be­tween demon­stra­tors and Mr Al Sadr’s sup­port­ers – dis­tin­guished by their blue caps – af­ter the cleric with­drew his sup­port for the pro­test­ers.

Eight people were killed when Mr Al Sadr’s sup­port­ers stormed a protest camp in the south­ern city of Na­jaf. Chants of “down with filthy Moqtada” be­gan trend­ing on Twit­ter.

Mr Al Sadr, who wields sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence among Iraq’s ma­jor­ity-Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion, ini­tially threw his weight be­hind anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors but with­drew his sup­port to en­dorse the nom­i­na­tion of Iraq’s new prime min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Mo­hammed Allawi.

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