By Dr. Dara Mohammad
This article is an attempt to analyse the movements that have presented themselves as opposition forces. In particular, It will focus on the Gorran Movement and the New Generation Movement. The primary question of this article is, why are these movements inadequate when putting themselves forward as social movements with long term ideological goals. The major obstacle of these movements is that when they clash with the political parties in power, they fail to develop new ideologies to challenge those parties. Instead, they tend to steer in the same direction as the ruling parties. Ultimately this impacts the movements support base. Their support base often starts by building, but as soon as these opposition someones move in a similar direction to that of the ruling parties, they lose significant support from the public.
The movement’s that have been founded after the 1991 Kurdish uprisings, in particular, those that have been able to maintain significant public support and that have been taken a political position challenging the dominance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, have only been able to maintain this position for a short period of time. These movements have ended up organising themselves using the same political models as those of the two dominant parties. The reason the movements follow this path is that they have a world view and political thinking that does not differentiate between politics or society. Furthermore, these movements use a significant amount of their overall energy to establish a political and thought project to change this norm; a norm that exists due to the decades-long dominance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Challenging this political character that has come about in Kurdish society requires new political thinking that can present a new vision for politics and society in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This political thinking will ultimately be the catalyst for new political action from a new character that will change the political and societal system in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. However, such a character will need to have political thinking that allows for criticism. Furthermore, this character must have the strength to follow its objectives, even when they seem distant and impossible to achieve. They must accept that in our society, there is significant will to change the current political system that has become entrenched in political party hegemony. However, contemporary opposition movements and forces seem to always fail in this regard as their founding principles to change the political system are still eclipsed by individual ambitions and the will for personal gain. Thus ultimaly results in these movements losing public support. Having said this, the existence of a political will alone is not enough. It must be coupled with a clear political program and clear objectives for the future of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that society can get behind. This new will must be radical and have the ability to influence individual thinking and change it to one that is progressive.
When we discuss the idea of a radical movement with a radical program, we do not mean a movement or program that promotes violence. Instead, we mean a movement and program that works effortlessly to de-indoctrinate the societal psyche. And a movement that helps society escape from its current restricted non-humanitarian and violence promoting state. A state that has resulted from a society that chooses to follow a set of values that most consider being regressive. Put another way, such a movement and program will catalyse the society to transitions from a political, social and cultural environment to one where the relations between individuals are governed through equality and justice. Therefore, a radical movement should be a societal movement before it is a political one. It should also have the ability to change the structure of power, the relationship of power between individuals members of the society, and the individuals in the society who have become the product of an inherently unequal system. (This debate about social movements and radical thought movements has been discussed by several writers before, for example, Bayat, 2012).
Changing political power in an undemocratic and autocratic environment, which is established on the military hegemony of elite families and political parties, is unlikely to occur through the changing of the parliamentary guard alone. Changing political power requires a change in the political culture that has developed as a result of decades of elitist rule. This political culture is one that suppresses the inherent values of both democracy and citizenship. The political culture makes a mockery of the intrinsic rights enshrined in democratic citizenship by restricting personal freedoms, social justice and equality. This political culture only serves the ruling elite and the two parties they control, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. It allows for power to remain in the hands of two small families, the creation of an array of associated business interests for them that they can utilise to extend their time in power and the creation of several special military units to serve and protect their narrow interests.
To be successful these new movements and forces must become social movements and work in a social setting to challenge power in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq because a change of power requires before it a change of societal culture. Furthermore, it must also encompass a vision of a different political future. The movements must have the ability to disrupt the social relationships that have become obstacles to personal freedoms and have prevented society from shifting away from one steeped in political patriarchy. To further understand the points raised here, there is a need for a short explanation. If the term ‘power’ is not only restricted to political power within government, and that within political parties and government bodies, then ‘power’ must be viewed as a broader concept that is far more encompassing. Hence, in the same way as Fuko identifies power in the institutions of state , for example how power exists within prisons, hospitals, schools universities, families, factories ect., and how individuals within each of these institutions are disciplined allowing power to show itself (Fuko, 1977, p.210; and Fuko 2007, p 1-27). Therefore, power lies within relationships that exist between individuals, and that exist between individuals and institutions.
Furthermore, whenever this power exists in society and institutions, then resistance will come into being to restrict the level of this power. Here I do not want to enter an in-depth discussion of Fuko’s theories on power, I merely want to demonstrate the form of resistance comes from individuals, movements and social forces. Thus, changing society, its values and power cannot only occur through political movements. These changes can only happen with the creation of a different and new environment. This change requires competition against the status quo wherever power and power relationships exist.
Therefore, if we attempt to understand these defensive and opposition forces and movements, the Gorran Movement may appear as a radical movement. However, in reality, it was not a radical movement, according to the above. Gorran entered the political arena as a social and populist movement. It then became a political force that was able to maintain and grow its support base. What is more, the party has been able to influence Kurdish public opinion, compete politically and change the balance of power in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The greatest challenge the Gorran Movement faced, and continues to face is that it wants a complete change to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s political system. It wants to do this via a top-down approach, and it believes this can be done through parliamentary procedure. The party has never contemplated a bottom-up strategy through the creation of several social and political norms and values that it can promote through societal organisations. It has not tried to rally its members around a specific political ideology to enable its members to have the ability to work independently and together. A large portion of the Gorran Movement’s support base supported a democratic and inclusive change in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s political system and governance model. However, the Gorran Movement could not deliver a political ideology or political project to echo the demands of its supporters. Thus, it found it difficult to retain this support base that was ready to support Gorran with direct civil action against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party to achieve their aims.
The Gorran Movement’s focus was on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s parliament and government. What is more, it is accepted that Gorran’s period of opposition was far stronger than its periods in government. The Gorran Movement believed and still believes that by remaining in government, it can instigate significant reforms. However, this belief does not connect with reality. By viewing parliament as the only stage for the movement’s challenge against the government, the Gorran Movement sets itself up to fail. Instead, like all social movements, the Gorran Movement should focus on self-preservation, the retaining of its support base and winning the hearts and minds of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s population. One of the weaknesses of the Gorran Movement was its lack of patience in remaining as a social movement. The Gorran Movement adopted a political party model that worked to strip it of its status as a social movement and restrict its supporters to those close to the new party membership. The Gorran Movement’s style of opposition would only work in a democratic political system that respects the rule of law and holds free and fair elections. It does not work in a political system monopolised by an elite few. Where a system is such that its civil and military service does not act independently of political parties, it is almoast impossible to bring about meaningful reforms through parlaiment. Iraqi Kurdistan’s democracy is merely a fantasy. Our nation is not based on citizenship, rights, individual freedoms, the sovereignty of law, or the independence of the government institutions for political party interference.
Therefore, the first fatal blow for the Gorran Movement was its inability to remain as a social movement at a time when it had a significant societal support base. There are several reasons as to why the Gorran Movement failed in this regard. The movement lacked patience and a clear political vision that would have assisted it in winning the hearts and minds of the Kurdish majority. Furthermore, the Gorran Movement failed in its objective because it submitted to the will of its members to cash in on their popular support to gain political positions and parliamentary seats. To satisfy this will within the Gorran Movement, the party officially established itself as a political party. The result of this was that it became bogged down in internal bureaucracy to make decisions. Ultimately, this distanced the Gorran Movement’s support base from the party and its decision-making process, severing its secure connection with Kurdish society. This shift from social movement to a political party that forced the Gorran Movement to implement a hierarchical internal model is reminiscent of the “Kafka” process where a biological being changes from one being to another through metamorphosis (See Kafka, The Metamorphosis). After the Gorran Movement went through its political transformation, it focused all its attention of parliamentary and governmental procedure. The failure of this strategy became evident when the Gorran Movement was at odds with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The ruling parties were able to lock Gorran out of the Kurdish capital, the parliament and the government, which ultimately stopped the Gorran Movement’s ability to challenge the political system and represent its support base effectively. As a result, the Gorran Movement saw a significant collapse in its support base. Therefore, a political movement like Gorran, that has has invested heavily in parliamentary procedure and elections to achieve significant reforms in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and one that lacks a wider political project and clear ideology will only see its support base reduce at elections.
The second self-inflicted blow to the Gorran Movement came from the late Nawshirwan Mustafa, the charismatic and wealthy leader of the movement who brought with him a large loyal external support base to the movement. In particular, the blow came with the passing of Nawshirwan Mustafa’s wealth to his sons, when one would have expected the leader to pass the wealth on to the Gorran Movement. This single action from the late leader worked to cause the internal splintering of the party.
In respect to the new generation movement, it too followed the same path. It introduced itself as a popular social movement. During the Kurdish independence referendum in 2017, the movement stood against all the other Kurdish political parties and movement’s and campaigned for the “no” vote. Furthermore, it was able to use its media wing ‘NRT’ and the weak internal state of the Gorran Movement to its advantage to create a strong support base. As a result, the New Generation Movement made gains in the 2018 KRG and Iraqi elections. However, the movement, like Gorran before it, appeared to lack patience and wanted quick political gains. As a result, the movement was quick to transform itself into a political party, create a hierarchical leadership structure and compete for parliamentary seats. The head of the movement, Shaswar Abdulwahid, who actively works to create a cult of personality around himself, appears to have a political ego. He tries to be the sole face, voice, financier, decision-maker and political-planner in the party.
One of the difficulties the New Generation Party has had since its founding is that it has boasted that it can bring about a new Kurdish society in which all can get wealthy. The image that the party has given in support of this promise is the image of the party leader himself, who is a businessman and owner of a successful project in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Moreover, he has amassed his wealth without knocking on the doors of the political parties. This capitalist image was derived from neo-liberalism, a political ideology that promotes free markets, capitalism, and economic institutions, and emphasises the legitimacy of humanitarian relationships that are built on rights, political freedoms and individual freedoms. Political populism is one of the main drivers of this branch of liberal thought. One of the images of this political egoism, which may also act as an inspiration for the leader of the new generation movement, is the Donald Trump model of politics. Shaswar Abdul Wahid entered politics in the same way as Donald Trump, through the business world. The image presents a view that when economic and financial power is attached to politics and political campaigning, it can offer political successes. However, it must also be said, that the leader of the New Generation Movement does not own any symbolic wealth or political backing. As a result, he has become subject of arrests and attacks from both ruling political parties, more so than any political leader before in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Therefore, the main obstacle facing the New Generation Movement is that it was not a movement founded from the depths of Kurdish society and later evolved to become a political player. Instead, it is a movement made in the image of its leader. More significantly, the New Generation Movement appeared at a time when senior members of the Gorran Movement have become disillusioned with the Gorran Movement and are looking for a new political home. As a result, the party was able to make significant gains in the 2018 elections. Like the Gorran Movement, the New Generation Movement does not have a preplanned political ideology; instead, it is an opportunistic movement that follows the will of its leader. The problem with this backdrop is now that it has become a political party; it can no longer act as a movement outside of the political system. Ultimately, this will work to reduce its support base if its leader faces financial or political problems.
One of the most important points presented in this article is that radical political movements should have a clear worldview on the current political, social and cultural state. They must offer precise longterm mechanisms and strategies to bring about change. Therefore, this form of radicalism does not translate as an attempt at creating political violence. Instead, it should provide an image for the future of the nation that is radically different from that of today. If a movement does not present or have such an image, then it will remain locked in the status quo. The biggest obstacle that opposition movements have in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is that they lack patience in their political and social activities. Furthermore, it is their lack of belief in working to change social attitudes and their failure to work at dismantling the political culture that the ruling parties have created in Kurdish society.
Michel Foucault. 1977. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books.
Michel Foucault. 2007. Security, Territory, Population. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Asef Bayat. 2017. Revolution without revolutionaries. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Franz Kafka. 1995. The Metamorphosis. London: Abacus.