Muscat: Muttrah Municipality is cracking down on traders doing business inside the 200-year-old Souq by closing down shops and handing out fines, accusing their owners of making the tourist attraction look untidy.
Officials say they are enforcing a law which requires all the shops not to display any items outside. Muttrah Municipality argues that the law is aimed at bringing more order to the city, but some shopkeepers and tourists believe that it needs to be modified.
Times of Oman met with a municipality official, met salespeople, and spoke to tourists to learn about their opinion of the crackdown, even as a representative at the Municipal Council of Muscat Municipality said the law was subject to amendment like any other law.
Salim Al Kindi, the head of the Muttrah Municipality, said that the law, which requires the shops to keep all their stuff inside, is aimed at making the city look more "tidy" and "organised".
The different shapes and types of the items make these areas look "ugly," he said, adding that the number of tourists is increasing and thus efforts have to be stepped up to make the city look more beautiful.
"If you go to the capital areas in other countries, you rarely find such a phenomenon except in specific zones in the markets."
Al Kindi also sadi that there was nothing new in enforcement of this law and it has been stipulated in the Muscat Municipality's local order since a long time ago.
However, recently, shops were seen displaying too many of their wares outside, so the rule is being implemented more strictly, he said.
According to the official, an article in the local order reads that none of the shops which already have permission to do business in shopping markets are permitted under any circumstances to display any of their items outside the shops' limits.
No area or shop in Muscat has been exempted and it is a blanket rule, Al Kindi said.
"By displaying their items outside, they think that they are attracting customers, including tourists. It is some sort of marketing for their items. But they have a signboard which is registered and everything is there. It states what they are selling. So any customer will come to know what the shop is selling (by reading the signboard). He can enter and see (if the shop has) what he wants."
No one would like to see bargaining scenes outside the shops, he noted, adding that the decision has nothing to do with whether the pedestrians' path was being blocked or not.
Commenting on the process to deal with the shops that do not observe the law, the head of the Muttrah Municipality said that initially they would be given notices thrice and the final notice will be in the form of a letter ordering them to shut down the shop.
"We usually give them about three days. So if the shop (owner) does not respond, we go and close it as long as the owner or a salesman is available. At any time, they can close it.
Even when the municipality comes to close the shops, if they say 'Ok, we will take our items inside,' they will stop closing them," Al Kindi said.
He added that those who do not obey the law face a fine of not less than OMR25 and not more than OMR50, adding that they may also be sued.
Al Kindi noted that those who have a complaint and come to the municipality are treated well.
"We listen to them, but they also have to understand the law and should not insist on doing what they want."
He said that any law can be modified and suggestions can be made but the process has to go through higher authorities. "We are an executive department."
Those who think that the law should be revised can submit their request to the Municipal Council, he stated.
Contacted by the Times of Oman, Mahmood bin Abdulqader bin Mir Hadi Al Shahwarzi, a representative of Muttrah at the Municipal Council of Muscat Municipality, said, "The door for dialogue is always open.
"Every new idea and suggestion