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French Version

Iraqi writers burn books to protest curfew

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

Iraqi police enforce the ban to protect Sunni and Shiite worshippers from sectarian attacks, but the restrictions have had 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," said Naim al-Shatri, the owner of the oldest bookshop on the street.

"The curfew on Friday stops many Iraqis flocking to this place," he said. "It has become a street of ghosts."

Iraqi intellectuals regard Al-Mutanabi as one of the most important centers in the literary world.
It is home to two important colleges, the historic Prince Saada al-Rasaeli and Rabat Arjuwan schools.

Locals boast the area has an intellectual pedigree dating back 1,000 years to the Abbasid Dynasty.

The district became a haunt for European orientalists like Louis Massignon and Jacques Berque, and 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 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," Salum said. He went on to lament the demise of a weekly auction of rare and valuable works.

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

Amman,11September2006
Redaction
The Daily Star


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