[This article is a slightly updated and edited translation of the original Arabic version that was posted on Jadaliyya and can be found here.]
Iraq’s absence from the “Egypt Today, Tomorrow the World” map, published a week after the massive demonstration in Egypt on January 25th and which included the dates of planned demonstrations in different Arab capitals, was striking. The absence was not limited to the dates listed. Iraq as a country was not included. It is as if the absence of protests indicated the absence of the country itself. As if Iraq was not affected by the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. This conspicuous absence is due to the nature of the present political regime in Iraq, which adopted and institutionalized a sectarian discourse after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iraq is reminiscent of Lebanon: the sectarian quota system has paralyzed political life. How is it possible to create a united popular initiative when markers like Kurd, Shia, Sunni, and Christian are in circulation and when the word Iraqi does not count?
One of the comments on Facebook about the abovementioned map was: “Why isn’t Iraq on that map???” The reply to this comment read: “A sad question with so many answers.” What makes this question especially sad is Iraq’s secular political history up until Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in 1979. Saddam Hussein banned all open political activity and as a result many groups (e.g., the Dawa Party and the Kurdish parties) were driven underground or flourished in exile (i.e., the U.K., Iran, and Syria). The return of opposition members from exile with the American troops after 2003 has had a devastating impact on Iraqi political life. These figures’ sectarian discourse and their thirst for government positions have led to the marginalization of independent and alternative voices. Given the nature of the political game in Lebanon, a reader may ask “When is such a revolution going to happen in Lebanon?” But not “Where is Lebanon?” However, the story of Iraq is different and its absence from the map cannot be overlooked. For instance, how can a reader not feel sad when she remembers the protest history of Iraq, including the 1920 Revolt, the demonstration that brought down the Portsmouth Treaty and the government in 1948, and the uprisings in the north and the south in 1991?
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.