Influential Shia cleric and leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, posted a tweet on Sunday which included 18 points which demonstrators should adhere to during protests. One of the points raised was that demonstrators “must observe the legal and social rules of the country as much as possible” and that there should not be free mixing between the two sexes in the sit-in tents.
— مقتدى السيد محمد الصدر (@Mu_AlSadr) February 8, 2020
However many of Iraq’s young protestors took offense to the suggestion, especially in light of Al-Sadr’s so-called “blue hats” in reference to the blue caps they often wear, who last week stormed the anti-government protest camps in an effort to get the people off the streets. The shift from attacking protestors to giving them advice has even prompted the Arabic hashtag “Muqtada_betrayed_the country”. Al-Sadr however seeks to portray himself as an Iraqi nationalist who wants to rid Iraq of foreign interference.
2ibn AlIraq called for Al-Sadr to leave Iraqis alone and not “interfere” in their revolution.
— ٢أبن العراق 2ibn Aliraq🇮🇶 (@2ibn_aliraq) February 6, 2020
In an attempt to ridicule Al-Sadr’s tweet, others took to social media with young men and women posting images of them cross-dressing as a humorous way to overcome Al-Sadr’s decree.
— Noor Mytham ALqaissi (@nooraqaissi) February 8, 2020
In line with the pro-secular values of many of the protestors, some images show protestors holding a sign saying that it is better to separate religion from state than it is to separate males from females.
"Seperating religion and state is much better then separating of males and females."
An Iraqi protestor holding this sign after calls from Muqtada Al Sadr and other militants to gender based segregation in the protests.
— Faisal Saeed Al Mutar (@faisalalmutar) February 10, 2020
— Balsam Mustafa (@M_Balsam) February 8, 2020
This is HEROIC.
Iraqi women continue joining the protests DESPITE calls for segregation from Muqtada Al Sadr and his militants.
They also launched hashtag #هي_الثورة
This is the type of energy that keeps me optimistic about the future of Iraq and the middle east.
Please RT pic.twitter.com/hQ8b5rUbgw
— Faisal Saeed Al Mutar (@faisalalmutar) February 9, 2020
Since the start of the demonstrations, Iraqi women have been taking a lead role and have played an integral part of the movement, reports Vice. One student who disagreed with Al-Sadr’s tweet was quoted as saying: “Sadr wanted to reduce the momentum of the demonstrations, prevent students from attending the protest square, and wanted to differentiate between the sexes and spread terror among the protesters”, he added that the idea of not mixing is not too dissimilar from Islamic extremist ideas as espoused by Daesh.
Many protesters, including some of Al-Sadr’s own supporters have accused him of abandoning their cause. Many of the Shia cleric’s supporters hail from eastern Baghdad slums and share the same grievances as many Iraqis – no work opportunities, poor health care and education.