The al-Shorouqi dialect was not used in the Iraqi media during the time of Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that a large proportion of Iraqi Shiites use it. Administrative authorities banned the use of this dialect and the promotion of the heritage, traditions and rituals of its people. They even banned any reference to it in stories and novels licensed by the Ministry of Culture or those transmitted by radio and TV stations. This was all despite the fact that the dialect evokes much history and culture, while occupying a distinct status in popular poetry and songs, for the people of Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Basra, Najaf and Karbala.
“The former regime did not want our dialect to appear in the media except in very rare cases and as a caricature to make people laugh, as if we did not live in Iraq and as if our dialect was something funny,” said Khalid Hamdan from Karbala. “The injustice inflicted on the people of southern and central Iraq during Saddam’s era was also inflicted on our dialect and culture.”
Now, however, the use of the language is being restored. During the month of Ramadan al-Iraqiyah television station is broadcasting a highly popular series entitled ‘Seven Daughters’ in which the heroes speak the al-Shorouq dialect. For the people of the south eastern regions, the series has marked a restoring of the dignity of the al-Shorouq dialect after decades of attack. The series is a comedy filmed in Karbala, showing the humble nature of the al-Shorouq people, their dedication to customs and traditions and their inherited adherence to tribal social relations.
[But the series has not been neutral at all. It praises Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and markets him as a national hero which has resulted in criticism from those who accuse the government of interference in cultural affairs. Munther al-Battat, a popular poetry writer, said that while “the series is unique in exposing local dialects and in providing a new image of the various Iraqi regions… praising the achievements of leaders is boring for the viewers, not to mention the fact that a drama whose aim is to entertain people is not the right place to praise leaders. After all, it is not a piece of work that is intended to promote the names of certain leaders for the upcoming elections.”]
‘Ruba’iyat Abu Kate’ (A Collection of Poems of the Father of Kate), a novel written in the late 1960s by the communist rural novelist Shamran al-Yasiri, was the last piece of literature referring to rural local dialects that many Iraqis remember. In the mid 1970s, the Iraqi rural dialects disappeared from the cultural scene in a similar fashion to the works of dissidents and opponents of the regime. Baathist culture which was promoted in official publications and on the official TV station considered Iraqi culture and the people’s aspirations as uniform and identical to those of Saddam.
At the same time, however, it was not just a matter of cultural unity. The Sunni regime was particularly hostile to the Southern Shiite tribes, treating them in many respects as second class citizens.
According to Khalaf Salman, also from Karbala, one of “the biggest insults to Arab tribes of the south was Uday’s [Saddam’s son] description of them as Indians who settled in these areas during the British occupation of Iraq.” The southern tribes who look upon their Arab origins with great honour and pride took enormous offensive to these comments which came after the 1991 southern rebellion against Saddam, said Salman.
Today, the situation has been transformed dramatically and the al-Shorouq people are once again able to practice rituals previously condemned. They can now practice the Husseiniyah rituals and hold their popular cultural festivals glorifying their own history and traditions. Moreover, al-Shorouq politicians have held many high ranking positions in the different governments formed since the fall of Saddam. Both the current Prime Minister, whose tribe comes from Basra, and former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is from Karbala, hail from among them.