In a popular cafe in the jewelry souk (market) in central Babel (100 kilometers, or about 62 miles south of Baghdad), which is visited by all sorts of workers, the walls are filled with pictures of political events and Iraqi leaders.
When the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ruled, Abu Muneer, the owner of the cafe, was forced to post the leader’s picture, just like many other Iraqis.
In 2003, when the United States overthrew the Iraqi leader, his picture completely disappeared from Iraq and was replaced with images of new leaders.
On Aug. 14, Abu Muneer told Al-Monitor, “The new leaders did not force their pictures on the people.” Yet, one day, he decided to hang the picture of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is now going to be replaced. Now, however, that Haider al-Abadi has been designated to form the government, Abu Muneer is uncertain as to whether he will hang Abadi's picture on the wall or not. Muneer said, “The pictures, debates and meetings that took place during the designation of the prime minister, since the end of the elections on April 30, are no longer interesting for the citizen.”
Indeed, the struggle for positions in Iraq in light of the lack of services and the decline in security, in addition to the Islamic State's (IS) control over large parts of the country, has pushed many Iraqis to isolate themselves from what they saw as a politics of hopelessness, especially before the last elections.
“The people now believe that all politicians are the same,” Abu Muneer said. “The reason behind this is the fact that their rotation of positions did not solve most of the problems, which made the people lose hope in any change.”
“In contrast to Western democracies where a politician or a party’s electoral program is open to dialogue and discussion with the citizens, Iraqi society lacks this kind of democracy,” Qassem al-Sultani, a civil rights activist, told Al-Monitor. “The arrival of one prime minister and the departure of another is no longer a big deal, since it is a matter of tribal mechanisms and sectarian and national quotas,” he added.
Sultani explained that the demonstrations in support of Maliki, who ardently wanted a third term, were “the result of sympathy on the party or the sectarian level. This is applicable to any demonstration supporting or opposing this leader or that politician.” He continued, “Even the demonstrations that appear from one moment to another against corruption, lack of services, privileges of deputies and politicians, also have their own political and sectarian motives, taking advantage of the people’s anger and distress for their own personal interest.”
Overlooking the prime minister is not limited to the oppressed social classes, which are rarely interested in politics. It also includes the intellectual and political elites.
On Aug. 14, writer and journalist Alaa Kulli told Al-Monitor in Nasiriyah (375 kilometers, or 233 miles south of Baghdad), “I do not care for either the prime minister’s name or his affiliations as much as I care about his ability to understand everyone in a multisectarian country. Such diversity needs a competent person without any psychological complexes who is far from the conspiracy theory. It needs a person capable of fighting such chaos and corruption.”
Media reporter Ahmad Jabbar Ghareb told Al-Monitor in Baghdad, “Iraqis are not looking forward to finding out who the country’s leader is going to be as much as they look forward to a better life after all they have suffered due to wrong policies, violence and corruption.” He said, “Iraqis care about the programs and goals that serve their transition from this continuous violence to an active and constructive life.”
Abbas al-Musawi, media reporter and head of the Iraqi Cultural Center in Beirut, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “During the elections, Iraqis focus on the prime minister’s identity. Yet, after the elections, they turn their attention to security, services and entertainment.” He said, “In light of a democratic experience in a tribal-led society, where clerics and sectarianism rule, there are no clear scientific criteria for the people choosing a certain politician over the other.”
However, journalist Qassem al-Saidi warned, “Iraqis are starting to reject sectarianism and tribalism that are limiting their stance concerning the politicians. … The citizens’ approval of the prime minister is based on his integrity and his willpower to fight corruption and achieve a comprehensive reform program.”