Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 12:34 pm (KSA) 09:34 am (GMT)

Iraq culture ministry fails to revive festival

Iranian circus entertaining its Iraqi audience in the ancient Babylon ruins in Hilla province (File)
Iranian circus entertaining its Iraqi audience in the ancient Babylon ruins in Hilla province (File)

Iraq decided to revive the Babylon Festival that used to take place during the Saddam-era rule at the end of the country’s scorching hot summers, but this time music and dance are banned to observe the birthday of a religious figure instead, the New York Times reported.

An hour drive from Baghdad, the Babylon Festival is located in the Hilla province where the ancient ruins of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar are at.

The festival is used to be considered one of the country’s cultural prides before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and only seven years later, the Ministry of Culture decided to re-introduce the festival over three days that ended on Monday. Aided by the support of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, organizers envisioned a celebration of a new democratic Iraq.

Birthday of the sixth imam of Islam

At the opening day of the festival, and after the arrival of dozen of foreign music and dance troupes, the region’s deputy governor (after the absence of the governor) bans music and dance citing the coincident of the birthday of the sixth imam of Islam, Jaafar ibn Mohammad al-Siddiq.

The ban cut much of the weekend’s program, which had been prepared months in advance, leaving most of the performers hailing all the way from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Iran and Russia swaggering around the ruins of Babylon.

“We rehearsed,” said Nurhan Mohammed Abdel Hamid, 20, a dancer with the Egyptian folkloric dance troupe Pharaoh of the Nile.

Iraqi performers presented the play called “Globalization” by a group from Diwaniya Province telling the story of displaced Iraqis by war, also the cultural wing of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged a play called “The Devil” about the United States.


 Babylon failed us — not the people, but the government 
Ali Makzumi, an official at the Ministry of Culture

Having the ban occur in Hilla which is known for a relatively moderate, multicultural attitude gives the impression of a rising Islamic conservatism in the country.

The deputy governor, Saddiq al-Muhanna, declared the ban on music and dance in the absence of the governor, who happens to be a political rival from al-Maliki’s party, al-Da'wa.

“We wanted to revive this festival in a new way, in a new Iraq,” said Ali Makzumi, an official at the Ministry of Culture who was responsible in bringing the foreign visitors, sounded exceedingly disappointed in the result. “Babylon failed us — not the people, but the government.”

The governor, Salman al-Zargany, is a relentless promoter of tourism in the province and had lobbied for the revival of the festival. The reason for his absence was unclear, though he is under investigation by the provincial council that elected him.

Muhanna said that the Ministry of Culture had waited too long to send the program of events, including the musical and dance acts, which he called offensive to Muslims during religious ceremonies for Imam Sadiq. He also added that people complained about the cost of staging an event so closely associated with the previous regime.

“It reminded people of what Saddam used to do,” he said.

Reporters and performers-not-performing outnumbered the audience, the festival also included exhibition of photographs, paintings, book fair and poetry reading.

The festival was promoted heavily by officials in Baghdad, but not advertised in Hilla.

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