Outrage in Iraq after minister mocks citizen in poverty

Outrage over Iraqi minister's 'Viagra joke' mocking father-of-nine who complained about poverty
2 min read
12 June, 2021
Iraq's minister of culture responded to a citizen's admission of being unable to feed his nine children due to a salary cut by asking: "Do you take Viagra?"
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Iraq in 2019 calling to an end to the corrupt political class and widespread poverty [Getty]

Iraqis have demanded an apology from the country's minister of culture after a video circulated on social media showing him ridiculing a citizen's poverty woes.

Culture Minister Hasan Nadhem appears surrounded by staff and security personnel in the clip as he is addressed by a man who complains over having his salary cut, leaving him struggling to feed his nine children.

Interjecting before the man is able to continue, Nadhem appears to pose a humiliating retort concerning the number of children fathered by the man.

"Do you take Viagra?" the minister asks mockingly, prompting fits of laughter from his entourage.

Viagra, also known as Sildenafil, is a medicine to treat erectile dysfunction, mostly used by older men.

While the remainder of the clip did not surface on social media it was enough to provoke outrage.

Ali al-Khalidi, an Iraqi journalist and media personality, offered an angry rebuttal:

"What on earth is the link between a sexual stimulant (Viagra) and the woes of a citizen who shares his predicament with the spokesperson of the government and the minister of culture?" asked al-Khalidi.

Another social media user said: "Shame on you, you criminal! What happened to humanity? What happened to mercy? What happened to decency?"

Ahmad Al-Sarraf, a civil rights activist, said it was incumbent on the minister to apologise even if he intended his comment to be taken lightly.

"Such behaviour is provocative even if it is meant to be a joke…it's disrespectful considering it's aimed at a citizens who complains of poverty in a country which sells four million barrels of oil day", Al-Sarraf told The New Arab's Arabic-language site

There has been no reported response from the minister.  

Mass protest erupted in southern Iraq in 2019 calling to an end to the corrupt political class and widespread poverty. They resumed in 2020 after Iraq’s Covid-19 lockdowns and were accompanied with other demonstrations over unpaid public sector wages.

The country is in a severe financial crisis due to the pandemic-related decline in the oil revenues, as well as the devaluation in the local currency and the burden of large external debt.

Iraq’s patronage system, which the corrupt political elite have used to entrench their power, sees state jobs handed out in return for support. The number of public workers has increased threefold since 2004, with a 400% increase in salaries paid out since then.