Kurdistan in an age of viral reality

21-06-2022 09:13

Ruwayda Mustafah 

Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and to a lesser extent Twitter facilitate faster and wider spread of information in Kurdistan Region. It took one Facebook post from a legal advocate in Kurdistan Region to dominate the news cycle last week, within an hour the news of women being beaten up inside a court was picked up across all mainstream media outlets, including political-party owned news platforms.

While social media is not an exact reflection of the public opinion, it is nonetheless, the largest possible indicator of public perception of the government and politicians in the region. Viral news is being consumed like entertainment, and media platforms thrive off engagement, which is usually generated from creating the most clickbait content.

Not all news is received the same way. People engage with viral content, but they’re passive to the Erbil-Baghdad constitutional concerns. This could be because they’re unable to gauge the trustworthiness of the news they are reading online. I find the way viral content spreads on social media within Kurdistan Region fascinating because most of us are under the understanding that there is simply no room or prospect of people assembling against inequality, societal injustice and lack of opportunities for young people. Partially because people simply do not have confidence in the status quo, and they cannot see the prospect of thriving outside of the two political entities that rule the region. This means they either choose to exist within this political paradigm or find a way to exist without engaging with it.

The national outrage over the women being beaten by security was replaced by Tuesday evening with a new focus — the long queues for subsidised petrol in Erbil city, which led to multiple fights. In one viral video, two men appear to be tight fisted exchanging heated words.

The national conversation on Wednesday afternoon was about subsidised petrol. This shows an absence or momentum for meaningful rhetoric on reform. Every year, the region faces similar issues relating to petrol or during winter, we see flooding due to poor management of sewage systems within certain areas. As the week came to an end, the national discourse was now about the cholera outbreak in the region.

News does not appear to remain in the national dialogue for more than a day. The focus is on the immediate present, not the next five or ten years. When people react to viral news, there is an absence of meaningful conversation on creating sustainable solutions, but it also demonstrates the lack of space for discussions beyond the day to day politics. Where is the region heading? Will it become democratic or descend into authoritarianism? Will it cope with the projected water shortages? And many more questions remain.

We’re not seeing mobilised discussions on e.g. affordable childcare, accessible higher education, improving facilities within education departments, and this is to the detriment of the region. For instance, at the peak of Kurdistan Region’s economic growth, the region had a viable opposition — the Gorran movement. It has since descended into irrelevance.

Opposition parties are powerful because they improve governance. They offer hope, and a vision for reform, prosperity, and enables the government to directly engage with these concerns. The absence of a real and meaningful opposition weakens governance. What the region currently has — New Generation — a populist party that will jump on any conversation to remain relevant in the news cycle.

In the absence of a real opposition movement in the region, news will continue to be consumed with little prospect of change. People’s outrage will be short-lived, and social media movements will have little prospect of enacting change, and as pessimistic as this may sound, without young people actively becoming engaged in the socio-political affairs of the region, what could possibly change?