Iraq revolution will be dramatized, written, read, and painted

An Iraqi actor gestures as he performs in a play representing the ongoing anti-government demonstrations, in Tahrir Square in Baghdad. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2019

Iraq revolution will be dramatized, written, read, and painted

The pops of gunfire rang out across the protest camp in Iraq’s capital. Blood-stained bodies writhed on the pavement, and smoke from burning tires smarted the captive audience’s eyes.

But for once in recent weeks, the scenes playing out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square were a dramatization, put on by actors who traveled 600 km from the port city of Basra.

To an audience in tears, they acted out protesters railing against corruption and the lack of jobs, and filming with smartphones to broadcast the rallies live on social media.

Suddenly, the actors crumpled to the ground, motionless, under a volley of tear gas canisters and live rounds.

Each actor took turns recounting the story of his “martyr,” weaving through the stunned spectators and occasionally folding into one of their hands an Iraqi tricolor labeled with the names of towns where dozens have died.

The south has been particularly bloody over the last week, pushing the two-month toll to nearly 430 dead and 20,000 wounded — the vast majority of them protesters.

In a time of such hope and heartbreak, art is the answer, says 30-year-old Ali Issam, one of the actors.

“Art is finally playing its true role: Carrying the voice of Iraq,” he told AFP.

As anti-government demonstrations in the capital and Shiite-majority south enter their third month, they are being turned into plays, paintings, poems and literature.

Tahrir has become an art hub, a rare space for free expression in a country where conservative tribes, paramilitary forces and powerful politicians have at various points tried to snuff out criticism.

“It’s a mini-ministry of culture,” said Muslim Habib, a young director from Baghdad.

Every day at dusk, he sets up a small projector in a tent on Tahrir, marked with a huge banner identifying it proudly as “Revolution Theater.”

Inside, he screens documentaries, shorts and other works by Iraqis both at home and abroad and hopes to soon show “films from the revolutions in Ukraine, Egypt or Syria.”

Rows of chairs spill out from the tent onto the pavement, packed nightly with young and old, men and women, protesters and curious onlookers.

Even police officers poked their heads in for a glimpse.

Across the rest of the square, poets puffed out their chests and recited their latest revolutionary verses while small groups debated politics and philosophy.

Busking musicians dotted the nearby streets and painters canvased the walls with large murals and “calligraffiti” — a hybrid of graffiti and intricate Arabic calligraphy.

Culture even reigns in the “Turkish restaurant,” the gutted 18-story building that has been occupied by protesters for two months after decades of abandon.

A 24-hour library has opened in its ground-floor garage, a rare sight in Iraq where now just 50 percent of adults know how to read despite its legendary role as a literary hub.

The library is full of dozens of worn second-hand books, ranging from translated American novels and political essays to romance novels and theological works.

“This is culture,” said Mustafa, the 20-year-old volunteer manager, confessing: “I especially love Dan Brown novels.”

Curled up with a book in his hand, Mustafa said he stopped going to school at a young age so he could work to provide for his parents.

Already married, he worked in a printing shop but now peddles bottles of icy water in Baghdad’s traffic-clogged streets during sweltering summers.

“Reading is my way of continuing my education,” Mustafa said, insisting Tahrir should be flooded with novels for protesters.

“This is the proof that we are awake, we understand what is happening and we’re trying to succeed,” he said.

Youth make up a vast majority of the protesters in Tahrir, as well as 60 percent of Iraq’s 40 million people.

Many have said their active roles in demonstrations disprove those dismissing them as the “PUBG generation,” a combat video game that is so popular among Iraqi youth that parents often scold them for playing it too much.

“Yes, we are the PUBG generation — but we are also a cultured generation,” chuckled Mustafa, before turning back to his book.


LIVE: Middle East renews travel warnings as cases of coronavirus increase in Iran

Updated 42 min 7 sec ago

LIVE: Middle East renews travel warnings as cases of coronavirus increase in Iran

  • Kuwait has not registered any new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours
  • Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Iran would be required to self-isolate for 14 days

DUBAI: Governments in the Middle East renewed warnings for citizens and residents against traveling to coronavirus-hit countries, including Iran, where hundreds were tested positive and the death toll hitting 43 on Saturday.

15:07 - A World Health Organization delegation visited Kuwait and commended the efforts of Gulf states in airports against the spread of coronavirus, despite the high number of travelers.

14:23 - Qatar’s health ministry reported on Saturday the first case of coronavirus infection in the country, the state-run Qatar News Agency said.

The man is a 36 year old Qatari citizen, who returned from a trip to Iran, the ministry added.

14:06 - UAE’s ministry of education suspended nursery classes starting March 1, the announcement said on twitter.

School activities and trips will be suspended to prevent coronavirus spread, the ministry added.

13:00 - Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has reached 43, a health official told state TV on Saturday, adding that the number of infected people across the country has reached 593.
“Unfortunately nine people died of the virus in the last 24 hours. The death toll is 43 now. The new confirmed infected cases since yesterday is 205 that makes the total number of confirmed infected people 593,” Kianush Jahanpur told state TV.

12:48 - Oman announced the first case of coronavirus recovery, the state news agency ONA reported on Saturday.

The remaining cases continue to receive treatments and are reported to be stable.

12:39 - Iran’s government spokesman will hold his weekly news conference online due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, which has the highest death toll outside China, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.
Iran warned on Friday of a “difficult week ahead” after health authorities said the death toll had reached 34 and another 388 people were infected with the coronavirus.

Also, Iranian MP Mohammad Ali Ramazani Dastak, who was elected as the representative for Astaneh-ye Ashrafiyeh, died on Saturday morning.

He is believed to have been tested positive for coronavirus and died at the hospital due to “influenza and chemical injuries” receveid during the Iran-Iraq war, state-run news agency ISNA reported.

11:31 - Saudi Arabia called on citizens and residents to postpone unnecessary travel to Lebanon amid concerns over coronavirus.

The Saudi embassy in Lebanon also asked its citizens, located in the Levantine country, to take precautions, avoid crowded places and reach out to the embassy whenever they need help.

Lebanon confirmed its fourth case of the virus on Friday and announced that it was closing all schools until March 8.

10:16 - Kuwait also asked its citizens to avoid traveling over concerns of coronavirus contamination, a health ministry official said at a media conference on Saturday.
The Gulf state has not registered any new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, she said.
The total number of people infected with the disease in Kuwait is 45, the health ministry said on Friday, which has reported no deaths.

9:51 - Australia will deny entry to all foreign nationals traveling from Iran due to the escalating outbreak of coronavirus in the Islamic republic, the government said on Saturday.
Foreign nationals traveling from Iran to Australia would need to spend 14 days in another country from March 1, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“There is likely at this stage a high level of undetected cases and therefore those cases won’t be intercepted or identified on departure from Iran,” Hunt said.
Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Iran would be required to self-isolate for 14 days and the travel advice for Australians traveling to Iran has been raised to “do not travel.”
Health authorities on Saturday confirmed the number of cases of coronavirus in Australia was 25 after a 63-year-old woman returning from Iran became ill.
Iran has the highest death toll from the flu-like virus outside of China at 34, although World Health Organization (WHO) experts say the outbreak in the country could be worse than is currently known.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has fueled fears of a pandemic, with multiple countries reporting their first cases this week as the WHO raised its global risk alert to “very high.”