The regular popular demonstrations being held in Baghdad every Friday are not just good for the country's democracy, they're proving an invaluable business opportunity for vendors of street food, water and coffee and trinkets.
Business is so good in fact, that Iraqis like Jawad Rabee have come all the way from Dhi Qar province to sell water bottles. Rabee says that back home he usually sells water at military checkpoints where people have to queue to get through. But he thought that the demonstrations in the capital would be a good opportunity to do better business.
He was right: On an ordinary day Rabee says he would have sold about 25 boxes of water bottles – so around 300 bottles. Now every Friday he goes to Tahrir Square in central Baghdad and sells around 1,500 bottles. With the profit he makes from one Friday, he can survive all week.
“I leave the hotel where I am now staying about three hours before the start of the demonstration,” Rabee explains his method. “I fill the cart with water boxes and I buy ice to keep them cool.”
Most of the vendors plying their trade at the demonstrations do not live in Baghdad. And they all have to work hard to make a living. Police close the streets around five hours before the demonstrations and many of the vendors with big carts enlist the aid of other sellers, who collect water bottles from them, then sell them all from smaller boxes before returning for more. They also store their goods in yards near Tahrir Square so they can return there for more stock.
There are no stores near Tahrir Square and at the beginning of the road leading toward it are children and men of various ages selling Iraqi flags. Some of the demonstrators carry the flags, others wrap them around their necks like scarves.
Mohammed Riyadh, one of the flag sellers, says he refuses to use the term “selling” for his business. “My country's flag is so precious, it is not for sale,” he argues.
But in fact, Riyadh is doing good business here. “ I am actually a taxi driver but my house is close to the demonstrations,” he tells NIQASH. “So I cannot drive the taxi because the streets are all closed. In order to make some money I bought the flags to sell to the demonstrators, so I could make some income to compensate for the lost business.”
A man in his 50s wanders past, dressed in a traditional Arab costume – he's selling traditional coffee, carrying a pot in one hand and cups in the other.
The man, who wanted to be known as Abu Abdullah, says he comes to all the demonstrations. “The demonstrators need a dose of true Arab coffee – it is part of our legacy,” he insists. “In fact these demonstrations provide me with an opportunity to introduce a new generation to Arabic coffee, instead of the coffee they usually get in cafes which has no taste!”
During recent demonstrations Abu Abdullah says he made US$70 by selling the traditional coffee. “I am doing this partly to remind people of our heritage and partly because it is a source of income for me.”
Other traders are selling tamarind and other fruit juices. The juices are in big barrels wrapped in cloth to keep them cold and the vendors carry cups on belts around their stomachs.
Another enterprising young man carries a styrofoam box on his shoulders – inside are different types of ice cream. “Come cool your heart,” he calls out to the demonstrators. No doubt he will also make a profit today, especially because many of the protestors' passions are inflamed by their calls for a more just political system in Iraq.