By Haider Najm.
Recently conservatives in Baghdad closed several cafes by force, claiming they were fronts for immoral behaviour, prostitution and drugs. Liberals say it’s not so – and that this is just the latest campaign to clamp down on Iraqis’ everyday rights.
Recent raids on, and closures of, some of Baghdad’s more modern, youth-oriented coffee shops are a “sign of Iraq’s future,” writes Mushriq Abbas, a Baghdad journalist. “They show the country at a cross roads, looking down one road or another. The question of whether Iraq will become a carbon copy of Iran or Afghanistan, or whether it will be a modern civil state, remains.”
Abbas is just one of many locals angered by the apparently unofficial closure of a number of coffee shops in Baghdad's central Karrada neighbourhood. Among the reasons given for the closures were arguments that the coffee shops were employing under-age females, that they were fronts for brothels, that there was immoral contact between the sexes going on there as well as drug dealing and that the cafes were open at illegal hours.
In his recently published article, Abbas call the closures “religious raids on the personal freedoms of the Iraqi people” and criticises local security forces, who did nothing to prevent the closures which Abbas feels violate the Iraqi Constitution. Some of the cafes appear to have been forcibly shut down by local religious and tribal groups.
In fact, various reports indicate that the coffee shops were not actually closed because of any official violations or because they were contravening rules on when food can be served during the month-long Muslim festival of Ramadan. During Ramadan, when most practising Muslims fast during the day, only a handful of restaurants are usually given special permission to open. But this was not the case with these modern, some would call them “trendy”, cafes.