SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Date: Nov 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
From Mosul to Baghdad, a song of Iraqi solidarity, resistance
Raad Al-Jammas| Agence France Presse
MOSUL, Iraq: While Baghdad anti-regime protesters have clashed with riot police, their supporters in Mosul are using art to fight for change, with a new take on the resistance anthem “Bella Ciao.” In a viral music video clip, the World War II-era Italian anti-fascist song has been tweaked to “Blaya Chara” - meaning “no way out” in Iraqi dialect.

It captures the fatalistic sentiment many young Iraqis hold toward their violence-torn homeland.

“I don’t have heating, not a cent to spend. Why would I even study if there’s no way out?” one gaunt performer sings, huddled under a blanket in a gutted building.

Others in the video, which has scored hundreds of thousands of hits despite frequent internet blackouts, hold up signs that read “Justice for our martyrs” and “I want my rights.”

Like activists elsewhere, they borrow from popular culture, donning the red jumpsuits and Dali masks of the Spanish Netflix hit series “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”), which has revived the Italian classic.

Much of Iraq, especially Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south, has been gripped by a wave of street protests since Oct. 1, decrying a lack of jobs, poor public services and endemic corruption.

But in Mosul, a mostly Sunni city recaptured from Daesh (ISIS) two years ago, social and political pressures have kept demonstrators from coming out in large numbers.

“The song is an artistic message of solidarity from Mosul to the protesters to say: Our hearts are with you,” said 25-year-old Abdel-Rahman al-Rubaye, the clip’s director.

Creative resistanceThe video opens with a despondent mechanic played by 26-year-old Mohammad Bakri, who heads the team of 14 performers that produced the song.

“We bought costumes, painted our own masks and filmed in the streets or in our own homes,” said the father of two, who founded the performance troupe in 2016.

He has dreamed of taking to the streets to demonstrate like his compatriots in Baghdad and the south.

But Bakri told AFP that “our situation in Mosul is exceptional and we can’t protest.”

Sunni communities in the country’s north and west have indeed stayed clear of the protest movement, despite the desperate state of public services there after years of war and neglect.

Daesh swept through their hometowns in 2014 and the three-year battle to oust the militants left neighborhoods and public infrastructure in ruins.

But residents say any street protests would be met with accusations that they are sympathetic to Daesh, which could lead to a counterterrorism charge that is punishable by death.

Or, they fear, they could be painted as fans of Saddam Hussein, the brutal ex-dictator deposed in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that paved the way for the current political system.

Authorities in Baghdad have already cast the protests as a nefarious conspiracy seeking to bring “chaos” to Iraq.

Without the street as an option, Bakri turned to the screen.

“With art, we can support the movement our own way.

“I think that this way, we can speak in the name of all Iraqis,” he told AFP.

The team was able to produce the video in a mere 12 hours and upload it just before authorities cut off the internet.‘Not afraid anymore’For Jihan Mazouri, a 23-year-old student and actress, her role in the film was “the least she could do” to back peaceful protesters further south. Her character, dressed in a black robe and veil covering half her face, desperately pulls handfuls of tissues as she sings about “a future with no way out.”

“People have died or gotten hurt in these peaceful protests, so whatever we do is incomparable to their huge national sacrifices,” she said.

After the success of the first video, Mazouri and the rest of the team decided to see the beating heart of Baghdad’s protests with their own eyes. They traveled to the protest epicenter, the capital’s Tahrir Square, where they performed a classic Arabic ballad by Lebanese diva Fairouz.

But, in another creative twist, their version is an ode to the now-famous tuk-tuks, three-wheeled rickshaws that have ferried wounded protesters to field clinics or delivered food and water to those occupying Tahrir. Well over 300 people have lost their lives to bullets and often lethal tear gas canisters, and activists say they are being threatened, kidnapped and assaulted.

In Mosul, Rubaye said Iraqis were becoming braver. “People have confidence in themselves and we are not silent about what happens to us,” he said. “We are not afraid anymore.”

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