Iraq Eyes ‘Free Speech Zones’ in Baghdad

Officials Hope to Sequester Protesters in Soccer Stadiums

by Jason Ditz, April 15, 2011

Protesters took to the streets of Iraq again today, demanding the same reforms that have become common cause across the Arab world. But while most nations have chosen violence or empty promises (both of which the Maliki government has dabbled in) to answer these demands, Iraq is also taking a very American idea.

On Wednesday the government announced a ban on protests in the capital city of Baghdad, saying that street vendors had complained it was hurting business. The answer was to sequester protesters into specially designated free speech zones.

The US began using “free speech areas” to move political dissent away from public view, nominally for security reasons, and became extremely common starting in 2004, when both major party conventions herded protesters into cages that were officially acceptable areas in which to protest.

The notion of doing so in Baghdad was mocked by protesters, who insisted that herding them all into soccer stadiums was absurd. Protesters continued to march in the streets instead, and no reports indicate any protesters showed up at the stadiums.

Which makes the stadium owners happy, as they were concerned that if thousands of protesters were forced to march on a soccer field it would damage the pitch and make future games difficult to play.

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