In Rudaw

Pandemic postcard: the view from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square

From Baghdad to Beijing, Berlin and beyond, city centers have been emptied by lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

With over half of humanity confined to their homes, AFP TV journalists set up cameras at sites in 16 cities across the world, including the Iraqi capital’s Tahrir Square, to ask people how they feel about the unusual quiet and their lives in a time of crisis.

Among those AFP spoke to was Ali Chaseb, a 29-year-old civil servant and continuing participant in the protest movement – despite national lockdown measures leaving Tahrir Square virtually deserted.

“It is a global catastrophe which led to a general confinement, therefore it is normal that Tahrir square is empty or almost entirely empty. Those who are here are only a few and they are here to maintain control,” Ali said.

Iraqis have taken to Tahrir to protest government incompetence, poor public services and foreign political meddling since October 1. Spread of the virus in neighbouring Iran fueled protester grievances, with fears that a full blown outbreak would devastate the country’s already run down healthcare system.

“Even in normal times our health care system is totally run down,” Fatima, a volunteer in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square told AFP last month.

“Now, on top of everything, we have a coronavirus outbreak, and we are supposed to rely on these facilities?”

As a COVID-19 outbreak loomed, Tahrir Square became a site of public health education. Lectures were delivered, with leaflets and free medical masks distributed to the square’s visitors.

Makeshift clinics set up to treat protesters injured by live fire and tear gas canisters have been refashioned to dispense gloves and hand sanitiser.

Measures to restrict gatherings and non-essential movement were imposed nationwide last month to limit spread of the virus, causing protester numbers to dwindle.

But Ali maintains a persistent presence, for what he said is a preservation of the ultimate sacrifice made by slain protesters.

“I am on Tahrir Square for the cause. The cause demands that we make an effort. This effort is nothing in compared to the sacrifices of the martyrs. That’s why I am on Tahrir today.” Source