All photos taken by Athoob Al-Shuaibi, March 16 2017.
Public pressure paid off just hours after the outset of the strike, as the Deputy of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, Anas Al-Saleh issued a decree decided to halt the rent increase on Mubarakiya Market shops.
There’s a local saying rolling in Kuwait, “Whenever you feel upset, go to Mubarakiya”. But when I got there on Thursday morning, 16 of March, Anger and sadness overtook the cheerful soul of that place. At Souq Al-Gharabally in Mubarakiya every single shop has been shut, including the fruits and veggie stalls, fisheries and butcheries on the day people come pilgrims from all Gulf countries because it marks the beginning of the weekend. The first and top generation of traders and merchants of Mubarakiya closes their shops in a smash against the high rental cost that rises up to 500%.
Senior Kuwaitis like to visit Mubarakiya to curfew every day. It is for them notmore than a heritage place. It’s their childhood and a place that was defined by their ancestors. An old Kuwaiti man on a wheelchair, wearing his pyjama and pushed by his helper. He stopped me to ask what is going on and I had to scream in his ear, trying to explain to him this complex issue. He cried.
Another elderly couple talked to me bitterly expressed to me how unfair this is, and what might happen will be a shame imprint on the conscience of the country’s history. The husband claimed that ” Heritage markets in the rest of the GCC countries are protected and supported by the government”. Meanwhile his wife loudly kept on telling me to write to save the place.
Many people came to document the work stoppage. Some of them had no idea what was going and started to ask questions. A Kuwaiti restaurant owner, Bu Muhammed, showed up to recite the story. He said:” My granddad used to sell sweets in the sweets market “Souq Al-Halwa”, since the forties. After the restoration of Mubarakiya, I opened a restaurant which was leased for 685 diners at that time. The Kuwait Commercial Markets Complex Company ran the market for twenty years with a BOT contract. In 2016, the company raised the rents 150% to become 1850 dinar. We were outraged when their contract has ended, The Ministry of Finance extradited the market to the Real Estate House Company, which once again, raised the rents by 350%. I can’t afford 8200 dinar rent. I sell a kebab platter for a one dinar and a half. Are they expecting me to sell it for five?”.
The Mubarakiya seemed to be the Speaker's corner at the Hyde Park of London. In each corner you’d found a mob around someone who desires to be heard. A number of traders, media and political figures came to demonstrate support and send a message from the heart of the event to the competent authorities demanding solutions to the crisis. The media veteran, Aisha Al-Yahya stated “ I was there yesterday and I witnessed elderly women crying inside the mosque after they found out about the rent increase. Millions of tourists from the Gulf visit Mubarakiya during Winter every Weekend. This is a space where you can respire the essence of the past. This is a terrible injustice. Greed would lose what is garnered.”. By the same token, merchant Jassim Al-Khulaifah said that this is an effort to obliterate the national identity of Mabarkiya from someone who couldn’t care less about the preservation of our heritage and the true value of it. He added “My family was one of the founding fathers of a Mubarakiya market for more than a hundred years. Today, they want to pull down what we have built.”.