There is a new online trend exciting many young Iraqis that, oddly enough, was all started by a Canadian woman named Breanne Lavallée-Heckert. The law student challenged the prime minster of her country, Justin Trudeau, to share his office with her for a day. Trudeau accepted the challenge as part of a worldwide campaign that aims to increase gender parity in the corridors of power.
In Iraq the “challenge” phenomenon has gone way beyond one campaign though. It has even gone beyond politics and become something of a marketing ploy for local businesses.
Not many ordinary voters would have imagined that ministers would accept such a proposal. But seeing a handful agree, was inspiring.
In Iraq, local man Anmar Khalid was so inspired by Trudeau’s gesture that he challenged the country’s minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, to share his office for a week. “Because one day I would like to do this job,” Khaled explained on the minister’s official Facebook page.
Abtan accepted the young man’s challenge and his success motivated other young Iraqis to issue similar challenges. As a result, Foreign Minster Ibrahim al-Jaafari will let local youth, Mohammed Faleh Hussein, work with him for a day and the minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, will let another young local accompany him for a week.
“The Iraqi youth are the leaders of the future,” Hussein wrote, when replying to the latter challenge. Many of the politicians who were challenged realised it was good publicity for them, so they accepted.
This may well be part of the reason for the popularity of the idea. Ordinary Iraqis usually live a life distant from their elected representatives, who have security details and often live in guarded compounds. Not many ordinary voters would have imagined that ministers would accept such a proposal. But seeing a handful agree, inspired more Iraqis to throw down more gauntlets.
Of course, not every politician was so willing. A challenge made to the minister of the interior, Qasim al-Araji, was rejected. Al-Araji then issued a statement saying that his ministry was no place for volunteers and interns.
Some Iraqis were angry at the cold response but others conceded that the ministry has a lot to take care of as it is responsible for security.
After this the whole idea began to catch on in other fields too. One Iraqi man challenged the presenter of the country’s best known satirical show, the Al Bashir Show, to allow him to present an episode. Ahmad al-Bashir, the well-known journalist who usually does that job, accepted the challenge.
Another young man presented a similar idea to Saad al-Bazzaz, the head of the Al Sharqiyah TV channel.
And then the hospitality industry got involved, with young Iraqis propositioning local restaurateurs. Some of the eateries did things like serve free meals for three days and to make it worth their while, posted pictures of the establishment in action on social media.
The massive interest in this phenomenon has resulted in the game of challenges becoming a kind of marketing ploy for many businesses. Hotels, travel operators and even jewellers and beauty salons are all in on the act. This too has fuelled the trend: Locals hope to win at the challenge, getting something for free or at a discount.
One company, Banya’s Travel and Tours in Baghdad, turned the tables, challenging an outsider to organize a package tour to a destination of their choice. The company said it was doing this in response to complaints about its service because it wanted to show clients just how hard it was to manage this kind of travel.
Several jewellery stores challenged their customers to post pictures of their best gold items online; they would win a new piece of jewellery if they did so, or a big discount on their next purchase. Clearly the whole idea of challenging a politician had become a marketing campaign, a way of harnessing a social trend proving incredibly popular with younger Iraqis.