Monday 8 October 2012

Iraq et al: Without electricity -- كهربا ماكو

Sulaymaniyah (top) & Erbil are well-lit but Baghdad is trapped in a maze of snatched cables 

The colloquial Iraqi expression “ماكو for maco,” means “without,” “deprived of” or “lacking.”
Sulaymaniyah and Erbil (also written Arbil or Irbil) are the major cities in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in northern Iraq.
About 100 miles separate Sulaymaniyah from Erbil, which is the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
A trip to the region by Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, must have elicited his think piece, published today in Arabic:
Three men from different backgrounds chose to renew their old friendship in Sulaymaniyah.
The three had paid dearly for dreaming early on of an Iraq free of Saddam Hussein.
One of the threesome had fought for years in the rugged mountains. The other had spent a good part of his life as a subversive. The third got to serve time in an assortment of Baathist jails.
I chanced to attend their cheerful get-together.
After an absence of about two years, I was overawed by Erbil’s evolution.
Erbil is in a race against time, hoping to become another Dubai: high-rise buildings, shopping malls, exceptional vivacity, a rush of entrepreneurs and investors, and homes and streets full of light.
Sulaymaniyah is following suit.
It seems the people of Iraqi Kurdistan are bent on making up for time lost.
There was little in the dinner conversation about the pains of bygone years, but much about progress, reconstruction, investment and stability.
The person sitting next to me at the dining table asked about my impressions.
I said I was pleasantly surprised but passed up critical queries about travelling through the outskirts of Kirkuk.
I was heartened to learn that to forestall fraud and corruption, the Kurdistan Region had a few years back devolved the issue of electric power to the private sector.
The result is the Kurdish Region enjoys 24-hour electricity and is currently selling excess power supply to governorates in the vicinity.
I was overjoyed because, being Lebanese, I suffer from the “electricity complex.”
The Lebanese civil war plunged my native country into decades-long power cuts that have yet to end despite the wastage of billions of dollars and the ceaseless shuffling of crooks and charlatans.
I did not tell my dining companion I was envious, especially that I believe darkness in Lebanon caused by outages is only part of the pitch-black darkness likely to envelop the country.
For some reason, however, envy electrified the conversation at the dinner table around midnight, when the man sitting next to me burst out: “Imagine, my friend! Historically, Iraq was home to the oldest civilizations in the world. It now rests on a sea of proven oil reserves. Its annual budget exceeds $120 billion. It spent tens of billions to restore power supplies. Still, electricity is wanting: كهربا ماكو.
“We brag about Iraq recouping its regional clout, about having balanced relations with the United States and equitable ties with Turkey and Iran, and about our new, strong and promising country. But electricity is wanting: كهربا ماكو.”
He said sharks were gulping down Iraq’s wealth and that corruption is boundless – “worse than in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, Najaf and all other cities, he said, swim in a sea of darkness and are sinking under the weight of snatched electricity cables and power generators.
He said power cuts and shortages were part of a tragic overheating of coexistence power lines connecting Iraqis.
He feared a growing preparation for a divorce between Sunnites and Shiites, especially if the emotional separation gripping Syria’s components -- due to the wholesale mass massacre going on in Syria -- culminated in divorce.
The power lines of coexistence in the Middle East region are cut.
True, a popular revolution is sweeping Syria. But also true, scenes of the former Yugoslavia are being replayed there, foreshadowing a long agony.
In Egypt, one rumor about a kidnapping or a mixed marriage is enough to see Muslims and Copts confirm a break in the power lines of coexistence. The lines are also out of service in Bahrain.
In Lebanon, a heated debate over a new electoral law risks splintering its constituent communities.
The cut in the power lines of coexistence make all our cities with (ethnically and religiously) mixed populations resemble Kirkuk.
Depression, darkness and fear permeate our cities.
The power lines of citizenry, of the state electricity authorities and of public institutions are down.
We stand at the threshold of a prolonged blackout, In fact, كهربا ماكو