Serving the future

October 2019’s protests generated unprecedented mass protests in eight governorates of central and southern Iraq. Tainted with blood and tears, these popular marshes subsequently structured themselves into organized protests while the government remained blind to their demands of reforms. In light of an unprecedented governmental repression, the Tishreen movement started to get more attention and was emboldened to propose political solutions in relation to the popular demands made during the protests. During the following demonstrations, Tishreen’s popular base was able to mobilize itself and to fulfill its self-organization initiative with the aim of overcoming Iraq’s classical political structure. This was made possible by applying a revolutionary slogan: “Al Wa’i Qa’id” in other words: the people’s conscience  is our guide. This moto calls for the overtaking of conventional party models in which a charismatic leader presides over everything.

Facing yesterday’s elites, these new actors rose, wishing to embody the values and demands of the masses that stood up during October’s protests. These new figures structured themselves around various organizations, including some that only pertain a social activity (this is the case for most movements that emerged from Habubi square in Al Nasiriyah where demonstrators gathered to exchange, debate, share goods, get food, treatment or instruction. Meanwhile, others took a more political orientation as the legislative elections were coming around the corner. 

The protests get politicized

The Tishreen was initially a social phenomenon, but it quickly evolved into several political movements. As a contestation movement, the movements’ evolution toward politics was not necessarily spontaneous. Its social activities had more sense rather than its political one. This required a period of preparation in order to be accepted by the Iraqi people who still are deeply affected by a history in which political matters are handled by party elites serving their own interests rather than the peoples’. 

After a first phase of actions, followed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in Iraq, the popular base of the Tishreen movement was finally able to support political initiatives brought forth by their organizations. Overcoming the sense of despair that generally characterizes independent movements, the Tishreen managed to get to the next level and challenge the general deadlock maintained by the traditional elites in government. The political organization of the civil society formed around the Tishreen movement was thus a response to the despair created by the government in place until 2020.

The first political initiative launched by the Tishreen activists was the Iraqi Union for Labour and Rights (IULR) in May 2020. It is led by the distinguished militant Iyad Hassan, one of the most prominent demonstrators from Tahrir square in Baghdad. Through its activities on the ground, the IULR started influencing the political debate in Iraq, as its agenda, its programme and its actions began materializing. In some of its publications, which The Red Line managed to obtain, the movement declares: «  [T]his union wishes to carry the hopes of all Iraqis. It is the voice of society. We believe that a new actor needs to rise, overcome the tragedies of the past and adopt innovative positions based on the public’s interest. Our movement values patriotism, keeps organizing protests and remains faithful to the idea of the Iraqi Nation, which encloses all communities of the country. 

The IURL has a national and inclusive approach regarding Iraqi society. Its bulk is composed of protestors wishing to embody a new form of democratic representation and to end the political containment of demonstrators. It is a good example of how the Iraqi nation has managed to transcend ethnic and sectarian divisions occurring within the political society of Iraq. This transgression legitimizes the union’s efforts as the end to which it aspires. 

The second organization is the Naqdr (“We are able”) movement. It was founded on the 17th of june 2020. It is directed by ALi Jawad, a well known personality who became famous during the October protests. The Naqdr movement has had many social initiatives which carved its non-aligned identity in line with the protesters’ position. The Red Line was able to interview Mr. Muhammad al Daami, one of the founders and spokesperson of the movement. He clarified his movements’ position: « The confrontation with the “corruption parties” [sic] should be twofold: a political opposition within the parliament and a field opposition outside of it. This is what could bring tangible results ». Despite this claim, the Naqdr movement did not participate in the elections. 

Torn between a social, apolitical vocation and the aspiration of certain actors to weigh in the political debate, the Tisreen eventually went in the two different directions. Galvanized, the supporters of a political action initiated the emergence of four major political actors from the Tishreen. The first one of them is the Imtidad (extension) movement. Although it was first associated with the Habubi square in the city of al Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar governorate, the Imtidad movement’s creation was announced in the city of Samawah on February 15th, 2021. Foreground and Grassroot militant Alaa al-Rikabi was then elected its  secretary general.

Imatidad was followed by « Nazel Akhod Hakki » (come down and seize your rights), NAH. This movement is associated with Najaf’s militants and was founded by Mushriq al-Fariji on June 26th 2021. 

The third actor is Ishraqat Kanun (The Dawn of December). The movement held its founding conference on February 17th 2021 and Saad Jaafar Aziz Al-Asadi was then elected its secretary general. Its main support base is in Baghdad. 

Finally, the party Beit el Watani (the Party of the Nation), BEW, was created. It mostly gathers militants from Baghdad and al-Nasriyah). BEW held its first conference on September 4th 2021, during which the prominent activist Hussein Al-Ghurabi was elected its secretary general.

Surprisingly, both movements Imtidad and NAH, directly accepted to participate in the elections while BEW, took its distances with the electoral process of October 2021, opting for political pressure actions outside the electoral campaign process.

Visions and aspirations

Among the demands of the Tishreen were the upholding of the anticipated elections. These had been approved and scheduled for the sixth of June 2021 before getting postponed to Octobre 2021, only preceding their constitutional date by six months. Despite this delay, competing independent parties intensified their efforts in order to prepare for the electoral race. The Imtidad alliance, Ishraqat Kanun and NAH all endorsed the electoral process, while the IULR and BEW decided to boycott the elections. On his side, the Naqdr movement supported Tishreen parties in their electoral race without joining it itself.

The discrepancies between these movements can be wide and should not be limited to the issue of elections. Questioned on such matter by The Red Line, Mr. Mustafa Hamed, a member of the General Secretary and Political Bureau of Imtidad declared :  « The Tishreen demonstrations were preceded by a popular boycott of elections ; this is a clear indicator that the people have rejected the ruling class for a long time as well as the system that brought them into power. The primary demands of the demonstrators were: anticipated elections with a fair electoral system, the formation of an independent electoral commission and a strict application of the law on Parties (the legal rules that preside over a party’s establishment, its campaign funds, its powers etc…). This demonstrates the ordinary people’s deep desire to renew its elite and find political alternatives. ». Mr. Hamed insists that Imtidad has a clear project to end the current oligarchic power in Iraq. « It requires correcting the  Iraqi political system through legal means. We are calling for a new constitution in order to transform the electoral system. We need to provide for the direct election of the Prime minister by voters in order to avoid the negative effects of the Muhasasa and the fragmentation of decision centers that brought us to the current political chaos. ».

On a different note, the Beit el Watani party relies on the concept of the unified Iraqi Nation in order to transcend sectarianism in the country. The party has a large audience and enjoys the support of Iraqis throughout all governorates of Iraq. Member of the General Secretary, Mr. Anmar Al Omar explained to The Red Line that BEW has representation in no less than 15 governorates. « It’s a fact, contrary to most Iraqi parties that have front offices in most provinces where party figures come to expose themselves in order to claim representation over all provinces. ».

Mr. Omar continued exposing what he believes differentiates his party from the others: « Beit el Watani is staunchly guided by its convictions. The principles of our movement (the boycott of elections, the struggle against corruption) were imposed by us on all possible fronts. We believe that the principle of political action (that is dysfunctional in other parties) is very important at this stage and prevails over other issues, even over the clarity of the political message. The other pillars of our movement are transparency and the support of a unifying national identity in order to dilute all forms of politicized sub-identities. ».

This political compass explains BEW’s decision to boycott elections. « We believe in a true, unbiased democracy; the current system is undemocratic due to the existence of political money, of the influence of violence within the political debate, and of course, of foreign influence on the electoral results. Iraqi elections have thus become a scam void of any essential meaning, that is, the separation of powers and a fair representation of all political courants, including newly emerging, independent parties. », added Mr. al-Omar before concluding by stressing that Iraqi elections do not solve crises, they create and feed them and bring chaos. Boycott is therefore an act of protest aiming at pressuring the government from outside through political activism.

Beit el Watani announced their intentions to boycott elections on June ninth, 2021; the day of the assassination of prominent civil activist Ihab al-Wazni. Many observers interpreted this reaction as an opportunistic move by BEW to justify their withdrawal from the electoral race whereas the real reason for it was the lack of preparation of the party to run for elections. Party leader Mr. Hisham Al-Mawazani clearly denied this hypothesis in an interview to The Red Line:  « Our participation is related to the requirements of the political process. Our participation will depend on the transparency of the electoral process ensured by the government. ».

Aversion to secularism

Expressing his party’s intellectual position, Mr. Hamed asserts that Imtidad  believes in the concept of a civil State and in the separation between political and religious affairs. « On an economic level, our movement’s program is categorized as social liberal », he said. From a general perspective, Imtidad sets itself as a progressive organization. During and after Arab springs, demonstrators constantly called for the establishment of a secular state. In a similar way, Imtidad is calling for the implementation of a softened, acceptable  version of secularism for Iraq’s mostly conservative society. Still, the party member wished to distinguish the hoped-for model of secularism with the Western models in place today: « We do not deny the importance of secularism in World history and in Europe in particular, for the formation of the modern State, but this was only a stage in reaction to the persecution by the church and clergy. Today, despite secular institutions, there is a Christian party at the head of a governmental coalition in Germany, which does not threaten the concept of freedom of democracy. », before adding: « We believe that separating religion from the State is vital, but this should not extend to other structures of society. ».

Discussing the intellectual position of his movement, Mr. Hamed  noted the following points: « We believe that theoretical secularism has various definitions and that practical secularism differs from one country to another. France is a secular State, as well as are the United States. But France banned Niqab in public space, while the United States allows it! Therefore, we cannot say that we believe in total secularism. Instead, we support conditional secularism. ».

From this perspective, it can be deduced that Imtidad is a moderate secular movement that wishes not to hurt its conservative constituency. This doesn’t mean that its leadership is taking the edge off its principles. In that sense, there is some coherence in the party’s vision. Imtidad has also adopted a liberal capitalist economic approach distinctive of social democracy. Speaking to The Red Line, Mr. Hamed explained: « We are a movement that learned a lot in the last eighteen years of political bankruptcy. We have analyzed this period and we concluded that society needs a period of “readaptation” to democracy. ». This will require, according to the militant, an « internal construction 

at an individual level and the formation of groups capable of taking spontaneous initiatives deprived of all leanings toward a cult figure-type leader that rules without sharing. ». For Mr. Hamed, Imtidad, as a sentinel, has vowed to survey the social and political evolutions through which democratic mechanisms will operate, without presenting itself as the political alternative that should rule.

Just like Imtidad, the Naqdr movement, does not advocate for a radical form of secularism, but rather sets some conditions for its implementation.

For Imtidad, it is a civil issue, whereas it is a secular an conditionnal one for Naqdr. Is this discrepancy the expression of an apprehension for a this anticlerical notion or is it simply the diversion of a concept ? Is it a game of definition to remove all suspiscions on the movement? Future will provide answers to these questions if the forces derived from the Tishreen movement succeed in playing a leading role in the future of the country. 

Final results

Iraqi elections took place on October 10th, 2021. Imtidad won nine seats while Ishraqat Kanoun obtained five. Nazel Akhoud Haqqi, though, didn’t succeed in obtaining any. The process of structuring of parties and organizations deriving from the Tishreen continued afterward. Today, all political actors are focusing on the necessity to forme a majority-based government. Risking compromision, Tishreen movements will have to collaborate with some of the traditional parties that dominate the new parliament. This might discredit the promises made earlier in their quest for legitimacy and damage the image of incoruptability they were trying to preserve. Only time will tell if the Tishreen movements will be able to maintain their integrity after the formation of government. Already, Beit el Watani seems to have entered a phaze of léthargie, not holding any activities in relation with its initial project, which was to play an opposition role outside the parliament.

In his speech to The Red Line, Mr. Hisham Al-Mawazani avoided formulating any criticism toward its Tishreen competitors, considering that Beit Al Watani’s mission was part of this general movement: « BEW’s mission is in line with that of the other Tishreen parties. They represent the opposition from within », he reminded, before distinguishing between “insider Tishreen parties”: those who managed to enter parliament, and “outsiders”:  « Each actor believes in his own path; we ambition to play a role of political oposition marty from outside the parliament », he explained. Insiders will be strengthened by outsiders and vice versa. Imtidad and Ishraqat Kanoun’s rise to power therefore reinforced the weigth of boycotters who did not believe that Tishreen parties would be able to win parliamentary seats. This gave hope for the next elections to bring a change for future. 

Much will have to be achieved to bring tangible results. And yet, so much has already been done. During October 2021’s elections, total independent candidates cumulated more than 1.6 million votes, which is twice as much than the winner of the elections: Muqtada al Sadr’s party. But, because votes were scattered between districts and candidates, most independents that benefited from all these votes did not succeed in winning parliamentary seats. Imagine what could happen if the Tishreen was more structured in the future.