Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Enlightenment Friday in Iraq

Every Friday activists and members of the public meet in Mutanabbi Street in the Iraqi capital to thrash out the country’s problems, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Al-Ahram Weekly

Every Friday is different in Baghdad, though each is a day when people try to forget about the news of corruption, violence and the sharing of power and in many cases gather in the cafés, libraries, teahouses and gardens of Mutanabbi Street, where Qishla, an old Ottoman building, and the Baghdad Cultural Centre are located on the Tigris River.

The Shabander teahouse, one of the oldest in Baghdad, opens its doors early as a place for conversation among writers, journalists, photographers, artists and ordinary people, men, women and students. On one wall of the teahouse are photographs of the three sons and four grandsons of the owner, Hajj Mohamed Hayali, who were killed by a suicide bomb that devastated the area in February 2007 in which more than 200 were killed or wounded.

On other walls are photographs of old Baghdad and members of the former royal family as well as of the present city taken by photographer Adel Qasim.

Every Friday, there are also demonstrations against the corruption that has blighted the country, along with the high salaries of Iraqi parliamentarians, these extending elsewhere in Iraq. Meanwhile, young musicians play, and anti-sectarian groups hold up banners against power sharing.

One conversation circle is administrated by Ammar Saeedy, who began his “Enlightenment campaign” under the title of “the human being is our aim” some time ago. Saeedy is a young activist who started his circle 15 months ago, and today hundreds of people regularly attend. 

“The Age of Enlightenment was a period from the 1650s to the 1780s in Europe in which cultural and intellectual forces emphasised reason, analysis and individualism rather than traditional authority. It was promoted by the French philosophes and other thinkers in coffeehouses, salons and masonic lodges. It challenged the authority of institutions that were deeply rooted in society, such as the Catholic Church. There was much talk of ways to reform society with toleration, science and scepticism,” Saeedy comments.

“There was an age of enlightenment in the Islamic world too that began with the second Islamic century,” he adds, saying that his idea in emphasising enlightenment is to criticise in order to achieve the best. “I am trying to show that wrong ways of thinking have led to sectarian conflicts, to humiliating women and to pushing society backwards,” he said.

Ali Mohamed, a young attendee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “young Iraqis are fertile soil. Every political party can plant its own seeds, but often they are bad seeds. We need debates of this kind to drive us towards a right and healthy society.”

In Qishla, meanwhile, young men and women activists collect donations to help displaced families living in camps or unfinished houses under the rain and in the cold. Activist Ahmed Agha has established a group called Ghawth (relief), and this has managed to visit refugee camps in many Iraqi cities.

In Kirkuk, another young group is helping the displaced and their families, in many cases aiding the displaced better than the governmental bodies.

Away from Mutanabbi Street, Iraqis await the announcement of the 2015 budget that could be facing a deficit because of the drop in international oil prices. The fear is that the coming year could be a hard one, and the government has been threatening a policy of austerity to help deal with the deficit.

But even as the rain turns the refugee camps into mud, there is much hope alive among young Iraqis, who continue to devote their lives to the country’s problems whatever the circumstances.

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