Below is a translation of a statement delivered at the launch of a new group in Iraq’s civil trend called Madaniyoun (2nd July 2016). One clear purpose of the statement is to distinguish Madiniyoun from the existing leadership of Iraq’s protest movement which centres on Mustamerroun and the ‘Higher Coordination Committee’ which draws together elements of the civil trend with the Sadrists in coordinated actions.
How do Madaniyoun draw this distinction? The statement is highly critical of the current development of the Iraqi civil trend, arguing that it has ‘deviated’ from its path by working in alliance with political bodies and those who are already integrated within the political field (i.e. the Sadrist trend) whom Madaniyoun argues are attempting to use the civil trend as a ‘front’ for parochial political purposes and are not serious about implementing reforms. It is worth noting that the statement emphasises that those involved in Madaniyoun are secularists and are committed to working towards a civil state in order to achieve equality and protect minority rights. This seems to preclude any substantive interaction or engagement with Islamist activism.
It is also worth noting that the statement indicates limits on Madaniyoun‘s contestation of the Iraqi political field i.e. they are not seeking a total contestation as was the case with the protest movements in many of the Arab states commonly discussed under the ‘Arab Spring’ rubric e.g. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria etc. This is indicated both by the basic acceptance of the constitutional political structures of the Iraqi state as the framework for reform, and their support for the armed forces and factions so long as they are operating within the legal ambit of the state (again, affirming the state’s fundamental legitimacy.)
This limited contestation of the political field highlights the central dilemma facing civil trend groups such as Madaniyoun. The protest movement has been successful in setting the political agenda, the basic concepts of reform: ending corruption; strengthening political accountability; and putting an end to the practice of sectarian and party quotas, now constitute the dominant vocabulary of all of Iraq’s major political blocs including Abadi’s government, the opposition ‘Reform Front’, the Sadrists etc.
The obstacles to implementing these reforms remain the sclerosis of Iraq’s political system born of the structure of the political field and the political practice of the established parties. It is, therefore, not clear how far limited-contestatory actions, such as the current protests, can deliver further gains for the civil movement beyond the vague notion of ‘maintaining pressure’ on political elites. This delivers the civil trend to an impasse where it must choose either to up the ante in its attempts to transform the political field from outside, or to develop new strategies of integration through which it can begin to wield power within the political field on its own behalf. A shift from a strategy of contestation to one of integration would require transforming Iraq’s highly active civil society organisations and movements into a political coalition, utilising the social and discursive spaces which have emerged in post-2003 Iraq and which have allowed Iraq’s civil society to flourish, if not yet to wield political power.
Arabic and translation below:
The purpose for launching Madaniyoun as a protest group lies in a number of factors: the huge collapse that the political process, decaying with corruption, has delivered, which impedes the capacity of the state to sustain any construction and development projects, which prevents the growth of the economy which has fallen into the hands of the mafias represented by the political parties which participate in the authority of the three [chief offices of state, Prime Minister, President, and Speaker of the CoR]. This statement was also issued because of the inadequacy of laws connected with the interest of the Iraqi people, and because of the deviation in the path of our civil movement, which aspires to reform, toward irrelevance.
The honeyed words of the politicians who cling to power and control decision making, the issuing of promises and then the delay and procrastination in their delivery, is no longer a secret to anyone, and the certainty that over time this will inhibit the civil protest movement, and bring it within the cycle of political conflict between those who seek for spoils and gains through the quotas and who use the movement as a front in this conflict. None of this will drain the anger of the Iraqi street which aspires to serious reform to escape from the miserable reality which is lived through today.
The government, the parliament, and the presidency, after these long months of effort to exert pressure to induce reform, now appear more comfortable and secure, because of political deals that have been coordinated from inside and outside Iraq, which support their remaining in power and ignoring any process of serious reform, which means choosing confrontation with the protesters rather than initiating the radical reform which was promised on many occasions.
Based on these previous observations, we want to put the following comments before public opinion:
- The civil protests cannot develop without an effort to rearrange the decision making process. On this basis we support inclusive participation in decision making and a commitment to it.
- The strength of the civil protest movement lies in its peacefulness. Therefore, we seek, through our demands, change and reform by peaceful means, and therefore it is unacceptable that these demands be dragged into violent practices, or the incitement of actions which will ultimately lead to a cycle of violence.
- Madaniyoun places the protection of civil freedoms as a basic goal and one of its priorities. We call for expanding the margin of these freedoms in Iraqi society under in the context of the constitution, and support for these freedoms through appropriate legislation, and oversight of the implementing organs and the extent of their commitment to this legislation. It is necessary to stand against any measures which seek to reduce the margin of these civil freedoms which represent one of the rare gains for Iraqi citizens under the current regime.
- Our civil movement expresses the voice of the Iraqi street, including all elements of the people, whether they be independents or part of the political parties, however, it does not express the interests of any group or political party.
- Madaniyoun considers, and has done since the beginning of the protests, that all the parties and political blocs that share in power have not demonstrated their seriousness about implementing reforms, and this is what proves the futility of making alliance or cooperation with any of these groups.
- It is necessary to warn that the current economic crisis and the fight against terrorism do not exempt the government from carrying out urgent reforms, especially with respect to the judiciary and amending the inoperable laws and the serious effort to eliminate the sectarian and ethnic quotas for the high offices of state. For the approval of these measures costs the relevant parties nothing but some conscience, integrity, and patriotism.
- Madaniyoun confirms its support for all the security forces, including al-hashd al-shaabi and the tribes, in their response to Daesh and all terrorists groups. But at the same time we confirm the necessity of disarming all arms outside the framework of the state.
- There are many forms for expressing our peaceful protest, and these include protests at times agreed upon by the special committees for Madaniyoun.
- The individuals of the groups which make up Madaniyoun are secularists, and they are an integral part of the civil protest. Their aim is to strengthen its power and momentum, and to ensure its fundamental shared goals.
- The signatories below confirm, in addition to what has gone before, the need to establish a civil state to achieve justice and equality for all sections of society, an ending of sectarian and ethnic quotas, reforming the judiciary and opening the file on corruption, holding the corrupt to account, and recovering the looted wealth. None of these demands, or others, will be achieved without a genuine desire for political reform and for achieving the legitimate national demands which are called for today by wide sections of the Iraqi people. And these have not been achieved yet due to the procrastination of the government in the face of the demands of the protesters through the past ten or more months.
2nd July 2016, Baghdad