TV show allows Iraqis to voice their anger live

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By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 29, 2010

BAGHDAD - On a recent morning, as Minas Suheil and his crew set up their cameras in the working-class area of Bab al-Sharji, people instantly swarmed the Iraqi television personality.

They thrust documents into the air, wailed about unpaid pensions, welfare, violence, government corruption and missing children.

"We want to get your voices to the prime minister and the president," he told them. "Just wait, in a few minutes we'll be live and you can tell them your problems."

Suheil, 31, has hosted the hour-long "Baghdadia and the People" show since it started a little more than a year ago. The program is broadcast live across Iraq six mornings a week and replayed at 6 p.m.

Its concept is simple. Suheil holds a red microphone and Iraqis speak to him and their nation about their suffering, the lack of services, jailed family members, dead children, abuses by Iraq's security forces and a government that still hasn't formed nearly eight months after Iraq's parliamentary elections.

"The anger before the elections was enclosed in hope. Now it is open rage," Suheil said. "This rage will get to a point where it can no longer be controlled. It's dangerous."

Despite the considerable shortcomings of democracy in Iraq, over the past few years Iraqis have become emboldened to openly criticize their leaders. More often than not, though, it is to no avail.

The nation's government is ranked the fourth most corrupt in the world. Iraq's security forces are infamous for abuses; many prisons are well below international standards; and inmates often are mistreated.

On a show this month, Mohammed Hassan stared into the camera and wept. His teenage son stole a bag of potato chips. The boy is in jail, and the police are threatening to detain him for 15 years. To visit his son, Hassan must pay a bribe he can't afford.

"I don't have money to pay them," Hassan said as tears streamed down the lines on his worn face. "The Iraqi judicial system is like a dog that wags his tail to the rich and bites the poor. My son is from the poor, and he's being bitten."

As Ali Jumaa, an unemployed man, waited his turn to speak, he explained the appeal of Suheil's show. "This is the people's voice to the government," he said. "He goes everywhere and they see the suffering, not like others who try to pretend everything is fine."

Just before filming began this day, people walked up to Suheil, kissing him on the cheeks and posing for pictures taken with cellphones. "God bless you," they murmured. "God protect you."


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