First of all, can you tell us who you are and introduce the organization you work with?
My name is Salem Dawood and I am 35 years old. I am the President of the Association of International Youth (IYA), a nongovernmental organization based in Iraq. IYA was established in 2003 with the aim of promoting peace and preventing violence, but also to strengthen the awareness for human rights and democracy. Under the Saddam regime, young people had no freedoms; we hope to create an environment, in which young people can use their democratic rights. Our crucial mission is to strengthen local NGO capacity for monitoring of elections and election processes in Iraq. Further, we cooperate with the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies and jointly organize workshops on topics of democracy, human rights and international law.
Media has widely reported on the Arab Spring, yet most stories dealt with Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. How did Iraq experience the Arab Spring?
In Iraq, we are witnessing demonstrations as well, yet the protests are not as large as in other countries. The Egyptian revolution was much bigger in size for example. Nonetheless, we have experienced some uprisings: most people are demonstrating against corruption in the government. It is the central issue. Another problem is the American occupation. The Iraqi people demand the departure of Americans; they should leave the country once and for all! The American forces are allies of the government and offer support maintaining their power. We are believing that the government is arresting young people, who are opposed to the administration. The Americans do not officially support this practice, yet they pretty much look the other way. All in all, the demonstrations are directed against the government, but not against certain problems in particular. That might be a similarity to the Arab Spring.
Do you think that Iraq can develop a strong democracy?
There are certain factors hindering the democratic development. The political life is heavily based on religion, ethnicity, regionalism and tradition. Parties have a particular, almost narrow focus. If every party is fighting for their own goal, it is more likely that splits occur, which are hindering progress. Further, the allocation of seats in the parliament is regulated with quotas. Mandates are distributed according to religion and ethnicity. Hence, there is much subdivision in the parliament, giving rise to hatred and discrimination. Progress is hindered. I think, the quota system must be canceled. People should be able to engage in politics because of their qualification and motivation. An additional problem is the constant struggle for money and positions. Corruption is everywhere. That is why the protest are directed against corruption; it paralyzes the political practice. Nonetheless, I believe that the people want to adopt democracy. They do not want to return to a dictatorship.
How do the Iraqi people participate in politics?
Iraqis significantly participate in elections. Otherwise, political participation is still limited. People don’t know the meaning of democracy; a profound political education is missing and hence, they do not know how to engage. We are offering different workshops on topic of democracy, human rights and citizens’ engagement. I studied in Beirut and some of my teachers were dutch. Hence, I learned a different view on politics, which I can now teach other people. IYA would like to offer more of those workshops, yet financing is a huge obstacle. Public funding by the government is very limited and thus, we have to rely on US grants, but those grants are insufficient as well.
So far, the protests did not have any consequence for politicians. Can you think about reason why protests remain to be rather narrow?
People are hopeless. For example, corruption is widespread and people don't believe they can make a difference. In their opinion, the problems are too big. Further, the government came through power via elections; a new experience for Iraq. People are waiting for new elections to choose a new government. That is the opinion people share on the streets.
For further information, feel free to contact Salem Dawood.
The interview was conducted by Vanessa Eggert.