Zainab’s Al-Mutanabi Street Visit by George Nichola

Al-Mutanabi Street is a place where books of all kinds (political, historical, social, economical, medical, psychological…etc) are sold. Al-Mutanabi is a small and old district on eastern bank of Tigris, it consists of ancient buildings on each side and they are extended along the street; you can clearly see (Tigris) when you reach the bottom of Al-Mutanabi Street. Most of the apartments in these buildings are book stores or book shops. Al-Mutanabi Street is regarded as one of the renowned places in Baghdad as it refers to the cultural treasure of Baghdad in particular and Iraq in general…books

One year ago, in 2007 this street was subject of an explosive car, about 100 people were killed in that explosion which targeted the humble, educated and cultivated level of society. Students, teachers, professors, press and regular people who are interested in reading gather there in order to look for books, thesis, magazines…etc of their interest. People lost their sons, daughters, kids and even fathers or mothers in that explosion, some book shops owners lost 4 or 5 of their children in that day.

The explosion created fear, sadness and damaged the old buildings as well as in the old street. The street was shut down for several months yet Nori Al-Maliki (Prime Minister) ordered to fix the street and revive it once again. After it was fixed people were scared to go there at first, yet day after day as the security in the whole city of Baghdad and Iraq got better people started coming back to visit that old Street, this street was once again crowded with people, exploring, buying and searching for what they need of books as usual.

Today, Zainab and bunch of staff met near the river (Tigris) and started an amazing tour in one of the most famous streets of Baghdad. We started our tour  in “Gahwat Al-Shabandar “, “Gahwa” means coffee  shop, Baghdadi old coffee is a place where cultivated persons gather from all parts of Baghdad to see each other, as well as to sip tea “Istikan”. “Istikan” is similar to the cup but thinner from the middle and smaller in size than the regular cup of tea.

After taking pictures by an old photographer and having a chat, we left the place and started exploring books; Zainab was very happy, her eyes were glittering to see the old street been revived, people almost happy and less tension. Zainab bought couple of books about history of Iraq. She was peeking on all the books, there are book shops, books arranged on the floor or on tables or scattered books on the floor where you must dig and look for books by your own… Zainab stopped for about 10 minutes near a guy who sells old pictures of rulers, famous places, tools and transportation means of Iraq in (20s -60s) they were very interesting. Zainab bought couple of these pictures…

As we were moving among the crowd we noticed three guys with camera, they were interviewing people in Al-Mutanabi Street. They as we were passing beside them, one of the crew asked Ibtesam (IG officer) to interview her. They wanted to convey to the world that not only men in Iraq read and not only men are interested in books and literature… Actually women are interested also in reading in Iraq, there is a great number of women in Iraq who are interested in books and reading… Ibtesam with confidence made the interview successfully and she gave her opinion about why she chooses to cut her holiday on Friday and comes to visit Al-Mutanabi? Her answer was: to explore and update my library at home with everything new, my daughters like to read during summer holiday, especially those books that improve their English language.


After books shopping, we had a short visit to the “Souq” the old public market; in the souq you can found all kinds of goods: clothes, Accessories, ancient tools and status that refer to Iraq famous figures and places…etc.

Then we have a stop at the Tigris banks where a singer accompanied with “Al-Qanon” player surrounded with people mostly men, there were few women as well, clapping and cheering the singer.

People, in Al-Mutanabi, old Souq and on Tigris bank sound as live is getting back to Baghdad in particular and Iraq in general gradually. That is important and cheerful thing yet we need to move, to do something in order to achieve a balance in society.

As we were crossing the river to the other bank (Al-Karkh) western bank of Tigris in a small boat, Zainab eyes were filled of tears as she was happy to see happy, cheerful and hopeful people along with others busy searching books, others trying to make a living, some other praying in mosques, all together composing the Iraqi society in peace and harmony regardless of their religion, political perspectives or areas where they live.


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