Arts & Entertainment

Baghdad book market struggles to bounce back after war, pandemic

By Carles Grau Sivera

Baghdad, Oct 13 (EFE).- In the early years of the 20th century, well-known thinkers, artists and avid readers would flock to al-Mutanabbi Street, an open-air book market in the old quarter of Baghdad which has been ravaged by sectarian violence and the coronavirus pandemic.

Amar Hussien sits behind the counter of the al-Nahda bookstore, waiting for one of the few passersby to enter his shop selling thousands of books from across the world.

The bookstore, open since 1957, is a reflection of a street that Hussein describes as a “cultural center and meeting point for artists, intellectuals and poets,” but is currently going through tough times.

Outside al-Nahda, there is a pile of cement bags, bricks and other tools used to gradually rebuild al-Mutanabbi, which was impacted by the 2006-2007 sectarian war after the fall of the then-Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, and the 2003 US invasion.

Hussein, the 52-year-old bookseller, tells Efe his shop has staggered from “one crisis to another,” saying it was completely destroyed in a 2007 car bomb attack, which left dozens of people dead and forced the authorities to close the street for over a year.

Thanks to his efforts and help from the government, al-Nahda was rebuilt. However, according to Hussein, the street has not yet recovered amid years of terrorism, as well more recently the Covid-19 closures and lockdowns.

“The pandemic has resulted in a freeze” of many activities, including schools and universities, Hussein says.

“The best time was before the fall” of Saddam Hussein in 2003, he adds, because “there was no internet. There were only books and reading.”

Hussein now believes that culture “does not die in Baghdad”, but “it needs a renewal” and more security so that it can be reborn.

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