Protests in Iraq: change or transformation?

By December 18, 2019

Iraq (MNN) – If you had to sum up the protests in Iraq in a single word, it might be: change.

You can apply that to the demand for change, the lack of change, or the right to it.  It started October 1 and picked up steam until government security forces opened fire on the crowds. From that point forward, the protests shifted from a demand for better opportunities to a need for a whole new government.  Samuel of Redemptive Stories describes it this way: “It’s the disconnect between what the people want, and making their voice heard, versus how the government was actually implementing that.  That is where the impetus for this whole process started, but again, where is it leading? That’s the question I think that everyone’s asking.”

The benefits of change

The Turkish restaurant,  protests in Iraq 2019.
(Photo, caption courtesy Hassan Majed via Wikimedia Commons)

In the past, Iraqis waited for the government to give them what they needed; today’s protesters are actively demanding it.  Most feel empowered to challenge the current system, and to some degree, it seems to be working.

In late November, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi stepped down after more than 400 people died during weeks of anti-government protests. Still, although the numbers grew smaller, anti-government protests continued due to the failed effort by politicians to nominate an acceptable replacement for the Prime Minister.  That flop brings the country one step closer to the brink of a constitutional vacuum.

Another hallmark of the protests: there’s a sense that the Iraqi people are protesting this time around with belief in themselves.  Participation makes them feel as if they had a voice in the future of Iraq. That’s true in one sense, but also reveals another problem, he notes. “I don’t know that they even know what they really want. I think that’s part of the problem. They’ve been successful in getting the Prime Minister on December 1, to resign/step down. They’re working to create a new government, and then there (are) steps toward a democratic election, which will be part of that.”

The ‘unknown’ of change

Yet, beyond the immediate change, what does rebuilding the government look like? Who will channel the incredible energy and national pride of the protests into something better? Samuel observes, “They don’t have someone that’s a spokesperson for them (as the protesters) that communicates; somebody with influence that they could back to be able to effect change within Iraq that would be able to speak for them. It’s just this mob of people without a true leader.”

(Photo courtesy Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil/Adiabene)

Samuel met with church leaders and pastors a couple of weeks ago. Many of them went to the protests and started talking with the participants. What they discovered was unexpected. “They heard for the first time this sense in which (particularly for Shia Muslims) they have rejected Islam.” For the many of them, he explains, Islam is a cultural part of their life, but not a faith part. Disillusionment over corruption plays a role, too. “Many of them are atheistic, agnostic, and searching for something more tangible and real than what they consider to be a political system, made into a religion.”

The hope of change

What it means, says Samuel, is an opportunity for the body of Christ to take the message of the Gospel to people starving for hope. “Our friends that live and work there and that are ministering are saying that there’s a renewed hunger for truth, unlike they’ve ever seen before. And so God (even in the midst of this brokenness that’s happened, and the deaths of over four hundred people) is doing amazing work and bringing many people to Himself.” But that too, faces challenge. Christians fled Iraq in droves during the rise of ISIS. Some returned, but far too few. For those remaining, “Pray that God would encourage our brothers and sisters to stay put– to stay strong where they are.  The loss of Christians from that area is a big loss to the whole country for the communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

(Image courtesy Marco Verch/TrendingTopics/Flickr/CC)

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