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The electricity uprising in Iraq

“If we cannot provide enough electric power for the Iraqis, why don’t the families buy private generators?” asked an Iraqi official during a recent press interview. It was similar to the quotation misattributed to French Queen Marie Antoinette two hundred years ago; if the people don’t have bread, “Then let them eat cake.”

Again, like the French, the Iraqis revolted by igniting the uprising in Basra. This spread around the country and this time the Iraqi leaders could not blame the Yazidis, which they had done in the past when there was activity in Iraq’s western cities. Those who gathered in Iraq’s Tahrir and other Squares did not belong to a specific sect, race or party. They gathered as Iraqis and expressed their anger at their rulers who have subjected them to decades of failure, with neither justice nor anything as mundane as new building projects. Instead, the leaders conspired in the name of religion to loot the country’s wealth and used its resources to satisfy their evil desires and feed their obsession for money and power.

The Iraqi leadership could blame nobody else except Daesh. Shia cleric and politician Ammar Al-Hakim was not very wise to label the citizens calling for electricity, water and services as members of Daesh aiming to destabilise the country in a plot devised by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Such a plot allegedly aimed to create new fronts that would ease the pressure on him after the “victories” achieved by his militias.

Perhaps Al-Hakim does not remember when the authorities came to him with their tail between their legs, in an unprecedented case of bequeathing power to religious figures, saying that over $34 billion had been spent on the Iraqi electricity sector since 2003. This figure has been confirmed by the Parliamentary Committee for Energy. According to a prestigious Western newspaper, this amounts to what is spent on electricity in three European countries — Britain, France and Italy — in which the power is not cut for even a minute. Al-Hakim may also not know that the poor management of the sector over the past five years has caused damages and losses for the entire Iraqi economy. Losses have been estimated at over $300 billion.

We had hoped that Al-Hakim himself would investigate the state of this sector that is vital to the lives of everyone in Iraq. Six ministers entered the ministry empty-handed and left with full pockets. Some fled the country, happy with the loot they had gathered while they promised the people to resolve the crisis in months. The latest minister said that Iraq would export its surplus energy to neighbouring countries. However, the minister who mostly disregarded the demands of the people is he who said that the people must be patient because electricity wouldn’t reach their homes for another 27 years.

It also seems that those governing Iraq today, along with Al-Hakim and the six energy ministers, did not study history, otherwise, they would have known what drove angry French crowds onto the streets of Paris to demand bread. They stormed the Palace of Versailles, destroyed the Bastille Prison and refused to pay taxes in the revolution that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the ruling class. The Iraqi leadership would have acknowledged the meaning of Mirabeau’s words in the palace: “Tell those who sent you here that we stand here by the will of the people and we will leave only by the force of the bayonets.” They would also revise the reaction of the blind Louis XVI who wrote one word about the revolution in his diary, “nothing”, but then met his fate, like any other tyrant, at the hands of the rebels who formed a national assembly to run France.

With regards to Al-Hakim’s now infamous statement, I see that he mentioned a “management crisis”, “insufficient funds”, “conflicts”, and so on. He has unknowingly diagnosed the sectarian “political process” brought about by the Americans. The prominent leaders who the US brought through the “back door” are unaware of the science of politics and the art of management and governance. They seized billions of dollars and pushed the country to the verge of bankruptcy. They were preoccupied and so distracted the people with the “conflicts and fights” over money, authority and power, and they drowned the country in civil wars and economic and social crises the likes of which have never been seen by Iraqis.

This has made the people run out of patience and driven them to exercise their rights to protest and demonstrate, just as the French did when they had no bread. Even if the Iraqis have still not stormed Iraq’s Versailles and Bastille, they still insist on continuing their uprising until they defeat their oppressors. There is one reason for this; they have nothing to lose except for their shackles. They may need a longer time than the French and they may need more effective and influential means and methods, but only then will the leaders realise that the excuse of “waiting for the messiah” no longer works; by then it will be too late. They will be just like the French kings and clergymen who realised, over two centuries ago, that their marketing of the idea of gaining square metres in heaven was no longer working. The ending of a revolution is often the most difficult stage.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 4 August, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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