Historic establishment cherished by locals

Al-Parlaman Cafe reopens in Samawah after 20 years

SAMAWAH — In a narrow alley of downtown Samawa, southern Iraq, lies Al-Barlaman (Arabic for parliament), a traditional cafe rich with history and charm. The cafe, modestly decorated, features old-style sofas with flowery patterned coverings, an old radio set playing classic Arabic songs, and walls adorned with images of old Samawa and Iraq’s royal family, who ruled from 1923 until the 1958 military coup that ended the British-supported monarchy. An old radio set plays songs by Arab icons like Egyptian singer Umm Kalthum and.

Patrons of Al-Barlaman Cafe have reunited after a 20-year hiatus, serenaded by the tunes of Umm Kalthum and Lebanese artist Wadih El Safi, enhancing the nostalgic ambiance. On the wall, there is a photograph from 1919 of Samawa taken by British aircraft and a 134-year-old rifle that still works.

Originally established in 1933 in Haddadeen Alley within the Grand Market of Samawa, the cafe closed its doors in 2004. Local figure Imad Fannin, committed to preserving the cafe’s historical and political significance, recently reopened it.

The cafe serves as a living memory of historical political events, where people once gathered to listen to updates on World War II via radio. In a bid to maintain its authentic atmosphere, Fannin has banned the use of the internet and games such as dominoes and backgammon to encourage conversation among visitors.

The name “Al-Barlaman” is a nod to the political discussions that once took place there between local intellectuals, activists, and tribal sheikhs. In the mid-20th century, prominent figures such as Sheikh Azara Al-Ma’jun and Sheikh Aja Al-Duli were nominated from here for the Iraqi Senate during its last session from 1954 to 1958.

Fannin shared with 964media that when the cafe was founded in 1933, it was managed by the late Abbas Al-Wai, a notable local figure, followed by Nafeh Al-Mashal, the father of local poet Nadhim Al-Samawi. From 1965, it was leased by the late Kareem Faraj until his death in 2004. “After that, the cafe closed down and life within it ceased. I came to revive it anew,” Fannin said. “We don’t consider it just a cafe; it is an academy that has produced writers, politicians, poets, and even athletes. It was also a meeting point for processions to commemorate [Shia] Imam Hussein in the old days.”

Abbas Al-Khafaji, a long-time patron, expressed his joy at the reopening of Al-Barlaman. He recalled frequently visiting the cafe before its closure in 2004. “We choose this cafe for the peace of mind it offers and to reconnect with the past and see old pictures like that of Samawa Bridge… and the cafe has always preserved its heritage,” he told 964media.