Friday, March 4, 2011

Kurdistan protesters want power


I have always been envious of those who were at the centre of things as history was being made. This time, I was at the epicentre of the wave of change sweeping the Middle East. And to my surprise, the success of these protests is really attributed to one factor and it isn't political -- it's social media.

The Middle East has a horrible image of violence, devastation and entrenched politics that makes it easy for us in the West to turn a blind eye to their plight. Social media not only gave citizens of these countries an opportunity to connect and rally each other in a way they never have before, but to show their humanity and their need for our help and support.
So when the protests inevitably came to Kurdistan, I wanted to know if there was an appetite in Kurdistan for the same type of uprising; there was not. The protests in Kurdistan vastly differed from those in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, and even from those in southern Iraq.

The uprisings in the rest of the region arose out of abject poverty and oppression -- this is not the case in Kurdistan. In Yemen, people cannot afford meat or vegetables. They are the poorest of the poor. The Mubaraks and Gadhafis of this world lined their pockets for decades as they watched their people starve. They had this coming.
The Kurds, on the other hand, are tired of bloodshed. They have survived decades of war, some from outside forces and some from civil wars, and they are tired. They want peace and to build their democracy. The well-heeled protesters who took to the streets in northern Kurdistan were politically motivated -- they were not oppressed and they were not starved. They want power -- pure and simple.

Of course, when you have a power-hungry mob, violence will erupt. It is no coincidence that Iranian dissidents are arriving in the region. The funds required for this uprising are coming from somewhere and it's not from inside Kurdistan. Iran benefits from an unstable Kurdistan. How else will it convince the Iranian Kurds within its borders that independence will only bring bloodshed unless there is some?

I don't believe that the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and definitely Libya would have amounted to anything significant if it were not for technology. Mobile phones and social media are key factors in a region where the governments tightly control the media. Egyptians may not have stood their ground for as long as they did if they did not see the fruits of their labour and its international effect through technology. The initial Kurdish protests were about gaining political power; subsequent ones with mass participation have been about the pace of democracy. Simply put -- no one managed expectations. When Saddam fell, they assumed that democracy would take root and it would be the land of milk and honey asap.

Nobody said it would take time to rebuild and that there would be bumps along the way. As a result, despite the tremendous progress made in this fledgling democracy, the people want change faster than is humanly possible. Is there corruption? Yes. But there is corruption in every government around the world. It is a side-effect of power.
Al-Qaida and the Iranian agitators have been waiting for a moment just like this to destroy their fragile democracy. I hope cooler heads prevail and that the protests are used to direct specific change, not destroy the fabric of society through a useless play for power. But then again, history has a horrible way of repeating itself in this neck of the woods.

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