Mosul embraces book culture in post-Daesh Iraq

Iraqis gather at Book Forum, a cultural café, in Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 03 February 2018

Mosul embraces book culture in post-Daesh Iraq

MOSUL: Literary cafes, poetry readings and pavement bookstalls — Mosul’s cultural scene is back in business, months after Iraqi forces ousted Daesh from the city following three years of terrorist rule.
At the “Book Forum” cafe, men and women, young and old, sit passionately debating literature, music, politics and history.
Drinking tea, coffee and juice, some smoke nargileh water pipes while an oud player takes the stage to accompany a poet about to read from his work.
Opposite, the only wall not covered with bookshelves is instead host to a gallery of portraits — medieval Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabbi is pictured alongside Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish and a series of abstract paintings.
A few months ago, opening a mixed-gender literary cafe in Iraq’s second city would have been unthinkable — punishable by flogging or death under Daesh rule.
But with the terrorists gone, Fahd Sabah and his partner have set about realizing their dream.
“While we lived under the yoke of IS (Daesh), I told myself that it was an absolute must to open this place,” Sabah said. “There was a need to inform people, to enlighten minds, to bring new ideas.”
Like many young graduates in Iraq, the 30-year-old engineer had few prospects of finding employment.
So as soon as the terrorists were driven out of Mosul, he set about finding a venue and preparing to open a cafe, putting his savings into the venture. Within a month, it was up and running.
It was worth the sacrifice, he said. His project aims to create “a new consciousness to overcome this terrible period and the damage left by the war.”
Iraqis are renowned in the Arab world for their literary culture. Mosul, capital of Nineveh province and sitting at a crossroads of ancient trading routes, long boasted a parade of booksellers along its famous Al-Nujaifi Street.
But Daesh methodically destroyed and burned books and destroyed libraries.
After the terrorists were evicted six months ago, a handful of activists set up the “Book Pavement” market outside the city’s battle-scarred university.
Ali Najam, 23, comes every Friday to scour the stalls of second-hand booksellers next to the concrete carcass of a building disemboweled by bombs.
Today, he has picked up an English edition of “Love in the Age of Cholera” by Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“People badly need culture and to build their consciousness after the hardships they went through,” Najam said. “There’s a need to rebuild people’s spirits, which is even more important than rebuilding the houses and the city.”
Yunis Mohammed, a 33-year-old writer, said that despite the destruction, “Mosul will be rebuilt thanks to the brains of its young people, its intellectuals.”
Abdelmonim Al-Amir, head of Nineveh province’s writers’ union, said he wants the world, which associates Mosul with “blood, destruction and desolation,” to know that the city has another face.
“Inhabitants and artists must make the human, cultural and academic dimensions of Mosul shine,” he said.
So far, everything is being done on limited means, in a city devastated by war, crippled by unemployment and held back by the slow pace of reconstruction.
“The public authorities in charge of culture must now do their duty,” said writer Hamed Al-Zubaidi.
Hind Ahmed, a 31-year-old engineer, said the mission was important to Iraq, which in December announced the “liberation” of the country and the “end of the war” against Daesh.
“Now the land has been liberated we must free minds and ideas,” she said, dressed in a white veil dotted with butterflies over a beige coat.
Iraqis must “give everyone the opportunity to participate,” she added. “Men and women.”


Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

Updated 17 November 2019

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

  • Withdrawal of Mohammad Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms
  • Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a "harmonious" government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon's fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi's bid in order to keep the job for himself.

"Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour," said a source familiar with the FPM's view.

A statement by Hariri's office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to "score points" despite Lebanon's "major national crisis".

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

"We are in a deadlock now. I don't know when it will move again. It is not easy," said a senior political source. "The financial situation doesn't tolerate any delay."

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as "back to square one."

Safadi's withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon's debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to 'CCC/C' from 'B-/B'.

Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.