Iraqi enthusiasts search for relics of royal past

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A man holds up preserved specimens of Ten Iraqi Dinar banknotes, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
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A man holds up a preserved specimen of a Ten Iraqi Dinar banknote issued in 1947 and bearing the image of Iraq’s former King Faisal II, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
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A man holds up preserved specimens of Ten Iraqi Dinar banknotes, during a historical relic auction at the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Iraqi enthusiasts search for relics of royal past

BAGHDAD: At the heart of a Baghdad flea market, nostalgia for Iraq’s royal past is on full display as collectors and investors gather to buy relics from a bygone era.
Inside the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for “pampered,” a hundred men from across the country carefully follow the auction of momentos from the nearly four decades of monarchic rule that ended with a bloody coup in 1958.
“There is a feeling of nostalgia among the customers. Take the banknotes, their manufacture and quality were much better before, that’s why the prices go up,” says 52-year-old auctioneer Ali Hikmat.
With a booming voice, the towering man who has worked in the covered market since 1992 offers his goods up for to the highest bidder.
All sorts of keepsakes are up for grabs: banknotes, coins, stamps and decorations.
Most date back to Iraq’s royal era, but there are also a few items from the early days of the republic that followed after general Abdel Karim Kassem toppled the monarchy.
Nothing is on offer from the decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.
For the Iraqis hunting out their own souvenir of the past, the period of royal rule represents a golden age for their country.
The founding of the Kingdom of Iraq under Faisal I — who fought alongside T.E Lawrence during World War I — marked the emergence of the modern state after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
The country gained independence in 1932 and the monarchy lasted until Faisal II was executed during the coup.
“Of course we are nostalgic for the royal period. All the main structures in this country were built during that period, be it bridges, dams and the rest,” says 53-year-old Ahmad Kamal, who owns a real estate agency in Baghdad.
“The royal era marks the beginning of the Iraqi state,” he says. “If we compare it to today, it was much better before.”
The comparison between the past and present is a potent one — as Iraq recovers from its latest round of devastation and bloodshed following the campaign against the Daesh group.
That violence is just the latest to roil the country that has been through war with Iran, the US-led invasion and a brutal sectarian conflict since the 1980s.
Saad Mohsen, a professor of modern history at the University of Baghdad, insists that back under the constitutional monarchy Iraq was “more democratic and cleaner than today.”
“We were far from the blood and fighting that we have come to know,” he says.
For clothing merchant Hussein Hakim, searching out souvenirs from previous epochs helps him to delve into Iraq’s rich heritage.
“The past fascinates me,” he says.
“I’m interested in the history of my country through the objects I collect from the Ottoman period up until the republic, but it’s the royal era that I prefer most,” the 43-year-old adds, proudly displaying two effigies of King Ghazi and King Faisal II.
The weekly auction in this small cafe is exceptional not only because of the sheer number of items on sale, but also because everything must be sold regardless of the price, allowing a lucky few to do snap up some bargains.
But the desire for all things connected with the era of royalty does not mean Iraqis are looking to bring back the monarch.
Sharif Ali Ben Hussein, who claims to be the legitimate heir to the Iraqi throne, has never managed to get elected to parliament.
In the wake of the 2003 US invasion, he returned to Baghdad after 45 years in exile but his claim that “a clear majority” of people wanted the monarchy back failed to gain traction.
For Adel Karim Sabri, who runs the magazine “My Hobby” specializing in stamps and old bank notes, “the past is always more beautiful because it is made of memories.”
And for many of those shopping at this market of memories, scouring for relics appears to have more to do with financial gain tha historical interest.
“They buy because they have money and it’s a good investment,” the 76-year-old says.


Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

Colors of Arabia held an event to honor artists in Riyadh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 December 2018
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Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

  • Colors of Arabia forum held under the patronage of SCTH President Prince Sultan bin Salman

RIYADH; The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has announced the winners of the Prince Sultan Bin Salman Photography Award in four categories.
Winners of the prestigious award, which was launched to recognize budding talent and efforts to highlight the Kingdom’s heritage, received SR300,000 each and shields at a ceremony held at the Colors of Arabia forum under the patronage of Prince Sultan bin Salman, SCTH president.
The forum, which is being held at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center, spans 15,000 square meters and is expected to have attracted 30,000 visitors by the time it ends on Sunday.
The award for the “pioneers” category, which recognizes the work of Saudis who have successfully contributed to the development of local artists, was won by a photographer in Hafr Al-Batin who began capturing day-to-day life in the Eastern Province city at only 12 years of age. The work of Jarallah Al-Hamad is now used in government brochures.
The award in the “literature and publications” category, which was open to contenders of any nationality both within and outside the Kingdom, recognizes photographers who have captured shots for publications and the film industry. Amin Al-Qusayran, a photographer and graphic designer from Madinah who began pursuing his passion 15 years ago, had previously won two awards in recognition of his work. Al-Qusayran is also author of a pictorial book shedding light on the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
The “civilized heritage” category, meanwhile, was open to photographers from around the globe seeking to preserve world heritage through the power of image.
The award for this category was jointly won by two photographers of Arab descent. Mohamed Bouhsen, from Bahrain, had left university to document national heritage in his country and the Arabian Peninsula at large. He won the award alongside Jalal Al-Masri, an Egyptian photographer who has taken part in 133 local, Arab and international exhibitions.
The STCH also announced the winners of the photo and short film awards in seven categories.
Mazen Flamban, who won the award in the “cultural heritage” category, expressed his surprise and joy at having had his work recognized.
“My ambition is to revive Hijazi heritage through my lens,” Flamban told Arab News. “This was the first year I joined the competition. My photo depicts an old woman who lives alone as she reminisces over old photos.”