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Friday, September 01, 2006


Several of Iraq's leading booksellers and writers burned a pyre of books today to denounce a curfew which they said has turned the centre of Baghdad's intellectual life into "a street of ghosts."

News dot com dot au
September 1, 2006
Article from: Agence France-Presse

In a demonstration dubbed the "Fires of Al-Mutanabi," authors and publishers denounced a weekly four-hour travel ban during Friday prayers in the war-torn Iraqi capital, which they said was stifling an important cultural centre.

Iraqi police enforce the ban to protect Sunni and Shiite worshippers from sectarian attacks, but the restrictions have a a knock-on effect on many of the other things Baghdadis once did on their weekly day of rest.

"Al-Mutanabi Street is the bread and butter of every cultured man. The curfew on Friday stops many Iraqis flocking to this place," Naim al-Shatri, the owner of the oldest bookshop in the street, said.

"It has become a street of ghosts."

Iraqi intellectuals regard Al-Mutanabi as one of the most important centres in the literary world.

It is home to two important colleges, the historic Prince Saada al-Rasaeli and Rabat Arjuwan schools, and locals boast the area has an intellectual pedigree dating back 1000 years to the Abbasid Dynasty.

The district became a haunt for European orientalists like Louis Massignon and Jacques Berque, as well as major Arab writers such as Mohammed Al-Fitori.

Al-Mutanabi street was itself opened in 1932 by King Faisal II, and is named after the renowned Arab poet Abu Taib al-Mutanabi.

In the past 15 years, despite the war, economic sanctions and political repression---the street became a gathering place for artists and writers, according to cinema critic and screenwriter Kadhim Rashhed Salum.

"We hope the policy makers lift the curfew which has killed our weekly rituals in this street and stopped students hunting for books," he said, lamenting the demise of a weekly auction of rare and valuable works.

Iraqi writer Sadun Hlayil said Friday was now "sorrowful for readers."


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