Closing of Books@Cafe

September 18, 2008

Written By: Madian al Jazerah, co-owner of Books@Cafe

This is about where we stand in hypocrisy and bigotry…and where we will be if we remain quiet.

Books@Cafe and many other establishments have been closed this week. Here is what I witnessed and what happened to us at Books@Cafe:

The night before Ramadan, the police violently stormed into the café and asked us to close down. “This is the holy month of Ramadan!” they barked. Since we are officially licensed and they could provide no official papers, we refused to close.

This is the third year we operate, fully licensed by the Ministry of Tourism and the Hotel and Restaurant Association. This is very important, because we are categorized as 3-star tourist, with recent faxes from the Ministry endorsing the permit to operate all day with regular food and drink service, including alcohol.

Last Wednesday, we hear that a security committee (Al lajna al amnia) has been formed and comprises of 3 groups: The Hotel and Restaurant Association, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Governate. All three must be present when this committee goes out to inspect.

That Wednesday night, the new committee barged into Books@Cafe (making sure every one saw them) and bullying everyone with their looks and comments.

They then walked into the kitchen while many of us including my brother were standing and witnessing. One person proceeds to tell our chef that there are cockroaches, insects, mice in the kitchen. Every one was baffled and were telling him to show us what he was talking about! Of course there was nothing, but with every accusation, he ordered one of his committee members to write it down and then adds, “let them get what they deserve for serving alcohol in this holy month.”

Our chef kept asking the guy to show him where he saw cockroaches, mice, however the inspector was not there to listen; he was just there to write us up and penalize us.

Despite the fact that only representatives from the Ministry and the Governate were there – no one from the Hotel and Restaurant Association. The guy then tells us we should not be serving alcohol on the terrace; we immediately pulled all liquor sales indoors.

Sunday night, we get shocked with the visit from the police with an order to close. There was no reason within the order. Of course, they only come at night so that there is no one to call or anything to do. When we showed them our papers, they kept calling us a night club. We are licensed as a restaurant. To them, if alcohol is served, then it is a night club. This is the logic we encountered, regardless of the fully accredited and legal license.

To our shock, the order started with the same Ministry of Tourism representative who received us like we were dirt at the ministry. He had sent a document with 18 accusations at us including the basic cockroaches, insects etc. Including another accusation “jalsat 7ameema wa tabadol al qubal.” Roughly translated into “intimate gatherings and exchange of kissing.” He also mentions that someone told him to go and form his prayer ablutions with beer! The document stated that this was all happening on the terrace, in public and in front of us and everyone! The guy was lying through his teeth!

For now Books@Cafe is closed. We are trying to get the license to reopen and have to send a “ister7am” as in begging for mercy for something we were legally doing and licensed by our ministry to do. To date the Ministry of Tourism and the Hotel and Restaurant Association have done nothing. The star rating system they have created has no value or protection.

Any comments on our system? Do we pay a rashwa to get things done or do we fight to make Jordan and our system fully protect our rights? Or do we just close up and leave the country and lose all our love and loyalty to Jordan? I prefer to fight for a better Jordan and I think everyone should do the same. This is my country and I live in it and I will contribute to a better Jordan.

UPDATE: The ministry has a list of 60 places recently closed. Cupid Cafe, Irish Pub and others are included.

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