TOUGH regulations on sheesha cafés that required them to be a certain distance from homes, schools and mosques have been scrapped.
Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning Minister Essam Khalaf has overturned a ministerial decision issued in 2006 that restricted the opening of sheesha cafés in neighbourhoods and imposed a closure at midnight.
There are currently around 11,000 licensed sheesha cafés listed under Sijilat, an online commercial registration portal.
The previous rules obliged a distance of 200 metres between the sheesha café and any home, school, educational institute, government building, embassy or consulate, mosque or any security, emergency or religious facility.
It also obliged cafés to close at midnight on week days and 1am during weekends.
However, the new decision scraps all that and will be effective immediately as it was published in the Official Gazette, which circulated yesterday. Under the new decision, licensing of sheesha cafés will be a joint responsibility between the Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry, and the Health Ministry.
“Municipal authorities should only be concerned about the building where sheesha cafés will be located at and whether they are safe or not, besides the availability of sufficient car parks and that chairs and table are not set in the middle of the road,” said Capital Trustees Board chairman Mohammed Al Khozaie.
“The distance and timing rules have been placed wrongly under a ministry that shouldn’t be dealing with the matter in the first place – municipal inspectors don’t check kitchens, sheehsa, or even issue commercial registrations.
“It took 12 years to figure out that the rule was wrong and was creating problems rather than resolving anything.
“The market should be free from such restrictions and thankfully they are now – sheesha cafés should be allowed to open when they fulfil all health and commercial regulations.”
The GDN reported last week that a fresh bid to allow all hotels in Bahrain to legally serve sheesha throughout the year has been launched.
The traditional tobacco pipe is only supposed to be served during Ramadan, but hotels continue to serve it all year round without a licence.
Municipal authorities initially planned to allow hotels to officially serve sheesha under a list of fees compiled by Bahrain’s municipal councils in 2014 following the intervention of the Health Ministry.
However, the proposal was since stalled because of a dispute between government bodies over the mechanism of the fee collection.
Mr Al Khozaie confirmed to the GDN last week that a new push to legalise the service in hotels has been taken up by the Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry since the establishments were classified as tourist facilities.