الواجهـة العربيـة

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Baghdad University Democracy Promotion

Period: 2005-2006
Status: Complete

Baghdad University Democracy Promotion project was based at Baghdad University, the largest university in Iraq. The student project committee decided to name the newsletter and debating society as Al-Jami'a Baghdad. As with Babylon Democracy Promotion (BDP), the project in Baghdad University was met with some suspicion. But again, with a no-censorship policy, open debate and elections for the committee membership reached 513, making it the largest society in the university. At the Annual General Meeting, 242 members cast their votes for 28 candidates with 6 females and 3 males winning seats on the committee.


Members attending the Annual General Meeting.


Members voting at the AGM.


Voting at the AGM.

Combating Radicalization

Learning from our experience in Hillah, from the outset we selected a couple of the more moderate members of Moqtada's supporters on campus to work with the newsletter and debating society. This gave a green light to students of every persuasion, including those that had associated with these Islamists groups as well as those who did not, to join and become active in the newsletters and debates. Furthermore, as was done in the Hillah project, we devoted several pages to Religious Affairs and worked to present moderate and progressive opinions from respected scholars which undermined any basis for radical thought.

The open forums of the newsletter and debates bred more informed and more tolerant views which saw student opinion sway more and more to the centre ground. Many had joined the newsletter and debating society and were increasingly distancing themselves from the Moqtada group. This left a hardcore extremist group which had haemorrhaged the support they used to enjoy amongst the university student body to the IPO society, which had easily become the largest group on campus.

Realizing their growing weakness and the society's increasing influence, Moqtada's group put forward one of their people to run for the top position of Editor-in-Chief at the April Annual General Meeting. He was resoundingly defeated by Miss Zahra Noor Al-Deen who received 184 votes. As a result he accused the organisation and society of being a Zionist outfit. The head of the Moqtada group in the university took this cause up and started issuing leaflets indirectly accusing the work of the newsletter and debating team of being Zionists and saying it was not permissible to join them or to help them. The newsletter team responded by printing all the details of the occurrence in the next issue which won them the support of the student body - including the more moderate elements of the Moqtada group.

Giving Students a Voice

The Students Affair section in the newsletter has become an essential read for students and integral to student life. 76% of respondents believed that the newsletter expressed their university concerns to a good or excellent degree. One student commented on a feedback form:

Miss Jinan Kadhim Ahdhyia, 3rd Year Sociology Student:

"You have definitely proved your success, distinction, and neutrality. You have indeed been our voice when we have had no voice, and our ears when no other would hear our calls. I salute you with all my heart for the bravery that your newspaper possesses, which is our newspaper. I wish you success in serving this country."


Students reading the newsletter.

The newsletter is used by students as means of raising concerns and issues about university life. For example, after the first issue many students either submitted articles or contacted the committee urging articles to be written to complain about the walls that had been built separating the various colleges in Baghdad University which were built after student protests last academic year. These were published in the second issue and the university eventually demolished these walls. Similarly students raised concerns in issue 15 regarding the state of some of the faculty departments. The university took up this issue and refurbished most of the departments in question to the delight of students and staff, who responded with a thank you article in the subsequent issue.

Tolerance and Freedom of Opinion

Sura Abdulamir Al-Juboury - Humanities Faculty:

"This newsletter delighted me as I found many varied and interesting articles"

Over 500 articles have been submitted to the newsletter, of which more than half were for the opinions section. This has resulted in very active and heated debates being instigated within the student newsletter. Over 90% of respondents felt that the newsletter exposed them to an opinion different to theirs, and initiated a degree of discussion amongst their friends. The society decided to focus the debates on non-political student related issues. This has proven to be very successful with some debates seeing an audience of 200 members. Topics included university uniforms, gender segregation, female participation on campus, increasing petrol prices and relationships on campus.


A debate on campus

 

© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation
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