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Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 07:51 UK

Ramadan crackdown in Amman

By Olivia MacLeod
BBC News

Photo: Kelly McCracken
This cafe, Books@Cafe in old Amman, was closed by police on 14 September
Restaurants in Amman are accusing the authorities of the heavy-handed closure of legal businesses to appease religious conservatives during Ramadan.

Jordan introduced a new restaurant grading system three years ago, to help promote tourism.

It allowed establishments with a three-star tourist rating to open for business as usual - including serving alcohol - during Ramadan.

However, the change appears to have upset the more traditional elements of Amman society, who have lobbied successfully for certain restaurants to be shut.

One such place is Books@cafe, a restaurant, bookshop and internet cafe in Amman's old quarter. Co-owner, Madian al-Jazerah, told the BBC News website what happened.

"Cockroaches"

"Eight people turned up from different ministries. They walked into the kitchen and one accused us of allowing cockroaches, insects and mice to run around.

"We were baffled, asking them to show us what they were talking about. Of course there was nothing, but with every accusation, he ordered one of his committee members to write it down."


kids in restaurants were misbehaving, sitting on each other's lap. We can do without this during this month

Zaid Goussous

Mr Jazerah said another official asked a cafe security guard "Aren't you ashamed, working for somewhere that serves alcohol during Ramadan?".

So he moved patrons indoors from the terraces, to comply with the officials' complaints that they were drinking alcohol in public view.

No written warning or notice was issued, but four days later, on 14 September, the police turned with an order to close. Patrons had to leave the building and the doors' keyholes were sealed with wax. Mr Jazerah says he was given no reasons for the order.

The Jordan Restaurant Association had helped to draw up the rules governing the sale of alcohol during Ramadan.

Its president, Zaid Goussous spoke to the BBC News website after a three-hour meeting with the Minister of Tourism and the Governor of Amman. He conceded the recent closures had been heavy-handed.

"Instructions can be interpreted by others in a slightly different way in the month of Ramadan... sentiment can override the logic of the law."

Compromise

Mr Goussous said next year the sale of alcohol during Ramadan in Amman would be restricted to five-star hotels only.

He said it was a compromise aimed at appeasing the "respectful religious conservative people" while allowing business to continue.

"If alcohol is served you really need to be discreet. The [Tourism] minister had phone calls from some people, complaining that more respect needed to be shown.

"Some kids in restaurants were misbehaving, having bodily contact, sitting on each other's lap. We can do without this during this month."

Mr Goussous said 15 restaurants were currently closed, but only three were for being "in violation of Ramadan" and he said these would be reopened soon. He said the restrictions would only apply to Amman, not to tourist sites in the rest of the country.

Madian al-Jazerah believes the number of legally-operating restaurants that have been closed is "a lot more".

"I just wonder who will pay for all these days we haven't worked. I need to live, and so do the 50 people I employ".





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