I’ve been pointing out how Iraq is one of the very few Arab countries spared the unrest that has swept the region. The reason is because Iraq has become a democracy and so people can air their grievances. However, clerics have begun preaching that Iraq’s status as a democracy should not spare the government from pressure.
The most important cleric to issue this warning is Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s Karbala representative, saying: “”The political blocs in Iraq must give priority to public issues over private interests.”
The article points out that on Wednesday, Iraqi police forces used violence to disperse a demonstration in southern Iraq, wounding 4. However, the gripes are NOT about overthrowing the regime or democracy. That’s the big difference: These are political protests that are part of a healthy democracy, while the protests elsewhere are about revolution. The most important cleric in Kufa made this point:
“The demonstrators did not ask to change the government like what is happening in Egypt or Tunisia, they only asked for improving basic services,” Dhia al-Shawki said.
“Are those illegal demands? Do they not know that the time of fear is over?” he said, an apparent reference to the fall of Saddam Hussein as a result of the US-led invasion in March 2003.
This is an important distinction. The anger over the police’s actions is because they are undemocratic. The small protests and concern over future ones are not about Sharia law, regime change, or anything revolutionary. Wednesday’s protests may, or may not, have been inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, but their goals and impacts are very different.