Iraqi demonstrators strategically rotate to maintain anti-government protests amid coronavirus lockdown

Iraqi demonstrators strategically rotate to maintain anti-government protests amid coronavirus lockdown
A small number of demonstrators are determined not to let the coronavirus pandemic end the anti-government protest movement.
3 min read
29 March, 2020
Hundreds of protesters have been killed since the demonstrations began last year [Getty]
Demonstrators in Baghdad have implemented a rotational system to keep protest camps alive amid the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying curfew.

Fears of coronavirus transmission have largely forced demonstrators to retreat from Tahrir Square, the capital's epicentre for the mass protest movement that broke out in October last year. 

But a dedicated few remain, fighting a battle with both the security forces and the highly contagious virus to keep the anti-government protests going.

Measures to restrict coronavirus transmission have already had an affect on Lebanon and Algeria's mass protest movement, with a protest camp in central Beirut dismantled by police on Friday and demonstrations banned by Algiers.

Iraq has imposed a nationwide curfew currently set to last until April 11 but authorities have struggled to enforce the measures so far. Hundreds of thousands defied the curfew last weekend to travel to the Imam Musa al-Kadhim shrine, a pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims.

Restaurants, cafes, cinemas and other businesses have been shuttered, and protesters have called off mass gatherings.

For Iraq's revolution to continue beyond the coronavirus pandemic, however, it will be necessary to keep occupying protest camps in central Baghdad, activist Mohammad Abbas told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.

"We have a rotating presence in [Tahrir] Square and all the areas we control so that the security forces do not occupy them and end our revolution," Abbas said.

The mass protest movement erupted in October last year as demonstrators took aim against a political elite condemned as corrupt and beholden to foreign powers. It won the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi but saw the killing of hundreds of demonstrators by security forces.

"The demonstrations are continuing but there is a significant decline in the number of protesters due to the fear and spread of the coronavirus... which could lead to a catstrophe," activist Ayham Rashad said.

Some protesters who have lived in tents and other sit-in sites since the beginning of the movement have decided to remain, he said.

"The demonstrations didn't end, and they will return as they once were - perhaps with even larger numbers," Rashad added.

Activist Nour Ali explained: "The demonstrations no longer exist in their old sense, but because the sit-ins in Baghdad and elsewhere are connected to the land, protesters are fully aware that their complete withdrawal would see the area occupied by Iraqi security forces and militias."

The affects of the coronavirus pandemic on the protest movement has satisfied political factions despite the small number of demonstrators remaining, a member of parliament said.

What bullets, arrests and military-grade tear gas canisters have not been able to achieve in slowing the protests, the pandemic has, the politician said on condition of anonymity. 

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