Why a hotel is posing a challenge for tribal tradition in Iraq
THE OPENING of a new hotel is posing a challenge to tribal customs in western Iraq’s Anbar province, where locals traditionally welcome outsiders into their homes.
In the heart of Ramadi, the provincial capital, a tall building is lit up with neon lights. “Rose Plaza Hotel” reads a bright sign in Arabic and English.
The 80-bed hotel, built by a young Iraqi businessman, has caused a stir in Anbar, the vast desert province to the west of Baghdad that extends to the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Wearing a suit and with his hair slicked back, hotelier Mohammed Kassar stands ready to defend his project.
“We are the province of generosity and hospitality,” says the 29-year-old.
“But it’s a joke that a province which covers a third of Iraq, looks out onto three countries and is a commercial hub, doesn’t have a hotel.”
The Rose Plaza Hotel is pictured in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province. /AFP
Anbar has come far.
A long-time bastion of the anti-US insurgency, it was later overran by the Islamic State (IS) group and became off-limits to tourists or investors on business trips.
But since Ramadi was retaken by Iraqi authorities in 2016, reconstruction, new housing and commercial projects have sprung up, attracting entrepreneurs from across Iraq.
Louai Rafe, an Iraqi businessman, says he’s happy to have found Rose Plaza.
He thought he could finish some administrative work in Anbar and return the same day to the capital Baghdad, 100 kilometres away.
But the work took longer than he expected and he decided to book into the new hotel.
“Whenever I came here, I used to sleep at a friend’s house, and I was embarrassed to bother him again,” Rafe says.
“This hotel is really welcome, it makes everyone’s life easier.”
The lobby of the Rose Plaza Hotel in Ramadi /AFP
But in Anbar, life is governed by the region’s tribes and their ancestral customs.
A sense of hospitality is paramount, with any outsiders being invited to eat a hearty meal and stay overnight in a resident’s home.
Houses are even built with such a welcome in mind, as the diwaniya or reception hall must be the largest and most impressive room.
This remains true even if it means cutting down on space for the family.
The only previous attempt to open a hotel in Ramadi was a failure, evident from the unfinished and abandoned building in the city centre.
The Turkish firm behind the hotel was forced to abandon the project in 2014, when IS overran the city. Residents jest that even the jihadists stayed away from the building.
But some Anbar residents are keen to take advantage of the new hotel, such as 28-year-old Mohammed Ahmed who has reserved a room for his honeymoon.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go and the hotel is a good alternative,” says Ahmed, his beard neatly trimmed and wearing a crisp white shirt.
A room in the 80-bed hotel /AFP
The owner also aims to attract business clients, holding out hope to welcome delegates for reconstruction conferences and summits on Iraq’s post-IS future.
But for some residents, the arrival of the hotel remains a threat to the region’s customs.
“These hotels never existed in the traditions of our fathers and our grandfathers,” says Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil al-Hamed, a 52-year-old tribal dignitary.
Hamed, wearing a white bedouin scarf and black robe, said the tribes have always been known for welcoming visitors.
“These hotels destroy our reputation,” he laments.