Call to close restaurants at midnight likely to fuel tension in Bahrain

March 31, 2010

The bitter standoff between conservatives and liberals in Bahrain is likely to deepen among news that a municipal council is pushing for the closing of restaurants and cafés at midnight.

According to a report in Al Ayam daily, Manama Municipal Council has suggested that all restaurants and cafés should close at midnight.

“The suggestion by the Manama council will be discussed by the other councils on Thursday and then submitted to the minister of municipalities for application,” the daily said.

“This decision will have highly negative effects on tourism and business and will severely limit Bahrain’s openness. There is serious concern that the move will impact public freedoms as extremist forces are gaining ground,” Al Ayam, a liberal newspaper, said.

Cafés have traditionally been an important component of Bahrain’s social life and live communication and confined to men. However, with the mushrooming of international brands in malls, a new café culture has gripped Bahrain and an increasingly large number of girls and women today sit in public cafés.

Attempts by MPs and municipal councilors to limit the significance of cafés by restricting their locations, keeping them away from residential neighbourhoods and schools, and by having them shut down early have been strongly resisted by the business community and regular clients.

The new proposal on cafés and restaurants will add fuel to the tension. Bahrain is currently debating the merits of a draft law to ban the import and sale of alcohol. The draft was last month passed by the lower chamber where conservatives dominate. However, it has not been taken up by the upper chamber.

Several MPs and political groups have urged the upper chamber to “emulate the shining example of the lower chamber and ban the sale of alcohol in order to help fight vice and debauchery that have given Bahrain a bad name.”

However, several columnists and businessmen have warned against endorsing the draft, saying that it would limit people’s freedoms and deprive Bahrain of its reputation as one of the most open countries in the region. Some businessmen said that businesses would lose up to 50 per cent if the law was promulgated and the decimation of revenues would cause job losses.

Supporters of the ban refute the argument and insist that the total ban would not harm the economy and would save lives and preserve family stability.

Although no official statistics on alcohol’s contribution to the national economy exist, experts believe that the alcohol business generates around $50 million annually.   


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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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