Iraqi, Lebanese street protests continue to defy sectarian order

Although in Lebanon protesters were from across sectarian lines, in Iraq, the demonstrators were mainly from Shia-majority areas. They do, however, share a common objective.
Saturday 26/10/2019
An Iraqi  woman demonstrates with a child in Baghdad, October 26. (AFP)
Unswayed. An Iraqi woman demonstrates with a child in Baghdad, October 26. (AFP)

LONDON - Protesters in Iraq and Lebanon calling for the resignation of their governments defied sectarian establishments in both countries and vowed to continue demonstrations until their demands are met.

Iran-backed militia leaders in both countries opposed government resignations as a response to the protests calling for an end to corruption and better living conditions.

Instead, Tehran-backed figures backed reform proposals announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which were rejected as not enough by demonstrators in Iraq and Lebanon.

Although in Lebanon protesters were from across sectarian lines, in Iraq, the demonstrators were mainly from Shia-majority areas. They do, however, share a common objective.

“In both Iraq and Lebanon’s unfolding protests, people’s demands for accountable governance, economic relief and an end to corruption stand at odds with identity-based sectarian solidarity,” Bassel F. Salloukh wrote in the Washington Post. “The people are rebelling against the socio-economic violence and personal indignation produced by the sectarian order. They are searching for a better future beyond sectarian identities and solidarities.”

Observers linked many of the woes in Iraq and Lebanon to the pro-Iran sectarian order in both countries.

“They (Iraqi and Lebanese protesters) are confronting many of the same political problems and are making essentially the same demand. They want the downfall of their countries’ existing self-serving elites and big changes to the sectarian constitutional systems that enabled them,” wrote Anchal Vohra in Foreign Policy.

Analysts pointed at Iran as being a key driver of sectarianism.

“From Iraq to Lebanon, it has become clear that Iranian power can no longer be tolerated. And when the country’s own support base can no longer accept Iran as its ruler, the international community needs to take note,” wrote Hanin Ghaddar in Foreign Policy.

“The recent protests show that Iran’s power is more fragile than the world perceives. And more importantly, they should remind that Shiism does not belong to Iran and that maybe it is time to start working directly with Shia communities.”

An end to that sectarian order, however, is not foreseeable, some observers noted.

“As long as Iran dominates Lebanon and Iraq, its proxies will vigorously — and if need be, violently — defend sectarian identity politics, ensuring that communal disharmony trumps the impulse for national unity among the Lebanese and Iraqi peoples,” Hussein Ibish wrote for Bloomberg.com.

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