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Iraqis don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to speak

Yesterday, there was an event by the Muslim Youth Association (MYA) on re-count of votes and the future of alliances in the next Iraqi parliament. I went with a hope that it wouldn’t be another one of those typical Iraqi events where there is a lot of disorganisation, time wasting and unnecessarily long questions, but unfortunately I encountered exactly that.

What made the event “Iraqi” wasn’t the topic but the presentation and the interactions of the audience. The chairperson introduced 3 speakers representing the major winning blocs to give short remarks for 15 minutes each. The first speaker was of a younger generation than the other speakers so his talk was quick, well structured, to the point, and finished just before 15 minutes. With a start like that, I was hopeful that the rest of the event would follow in a similarly well structured and clear manner so when the second speaker finished on time too, I was understandably impressed and feeling rather glad that I had decided to spend my Saturday evening at such an event. However my initial optimism soon faded, after the third speaker took the liberty of inviting his colleague to give a power-point presentation [which didn’t follow the format of the event and the other speakers had not been told that they could present in this manner] that in itself took about 25 minutes and was additional to the 10 minutes the third speaker had already spent talking!

After the third speaker had finally finished, the chairperson invited questions from the audience. It was here that the real manifestation of our culture began because instead of asking questions, the audience started recounting the following:

1-      Long general comments not directed to any particular speaker or the chairperson;

2-      Life stories, lessons from our troubled history with observations from recent travels to our homeland;

3-      Rhetoric speeches about the plight of Iraqis on behalf of Iraqis inside Iraq; and

4-      Repetition of any or all of the above in any possible way.

If that was the main course, side dishes were the unstoppable chatter among the audience without any consideration to the noise it generates in addition to talk-backs and unrestricted cross questioning from the audience. The desert was cake, and the icing on that cake was the variety of mobile ring tones going off ignoring and defying several signs (Please switch off mobile phones) visible to the naked eye from all angles in the room.

Amongst many things, we seem not to listen but to wait for our turn to talk. If that doesn’t happen as we wish, we can always interrupt. Is there a flaw in our culture that we can’t communicate in a better civilised way? Does it really take a dictator or a very high authority figure to make us listen and behave well? Are we that hopeless? I certainly hope not!

6 Comments on “Iraqis don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to speak”

  1. Ali May 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    Don’t you think after decades of repression, authoritarianism and no free speech, all of what you described are healthy qualities in a free people?

    • Ahmed Al-Saeed May 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

      Dear Ali, I see your point in that it is indeed the repression, censorship and lack of free speech are the reasons for this behaviour, but at the same time we can’t just resign to the assumption that that is healthy. We as Iraqis deserve and are worthy of interacting with each other in a better way. There’s no harm in a little bit of organisation, however there’s certain harm in the lack of it.

  2. Nisreen May 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    So true, the constant chat and lack of respect for the speaker is a pet hate of mine.

    At the first comment, free speech etc is fine but as iraqis we need to do it in a civilised way, not have a constant stream of disorganised horseh. Everyone can have their say but the same rules should apply to all and iraqis must respect that others can have a chance to speak, not take up all the question time by giving us their childhood traumas, save that for oprah, I don’t want to hear it!

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen the problems addressed in this article in so many events I’ve attended and it just makes me think that we have a problem with organising ourselves efficiently, and it figures, just see the state of our ‘government’!

  3. Numan May 3, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    these are the kind of things that keep reminding us of home, it’s good to have them every now and then 🙂 but not all the time!

  4. Shwan May 5, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    I love this article. It summarises our mentality. People can argue and rightly so that most people in the Middle East act like this but it is no excuse. I am an Iraqi whose called three major cities home in my 28 years. It is amazing how many times I have been to events that sound exactly like the above. The mobile phone thing makes my blood boil, and in some cases people actually answer and start talking. Another pet peeve is Iraqis who generalise or make sweeping statements based on their personal lives. I remember at a discussion I went to, one of the writers on this site made a sweeping statement about Kurds based on those that he grew up with. I do this myself as well and we should try and refrain from that. We don’t need a dictator but we need to see political parties that claim to be progressive to fight for the services ministries, such as the Ministry of Eduction portfolio rather than the more ‘prestigious’ ones rather than leave them in the hands of the Sadrists and Tawafuq like last time. Sorry I went on a rant there. Best wishes


  1. Iraq’s future… « British Iraqi Forum - May 4, 2010

    […] Leave a comment Go to comments After speaking at an event on Saturday and getting a good dose of Iraqi debate protocol, I was not only happy to leave in one piece, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a good friend […]

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