Yesterday I was walking downtown running various errands with a friend of mine. Throughout our walk we passed by the site of the fire, that burned in the souq, a few weeks back. I took out a camera and started to take pictures. I was impressed with the speed with which the souq had been fixed up and the work that was done.

It was obvious that there was a meeting with the shop owners going on so we quietly tip toed around them. We tried to find evidence of the fire and what had happened, but everything was white washed and new. Even the tiles on the floor were replaced. As we were taking pictures I heard a man asking “what newspaper are they with?” We ignored him as we were not addressed directly and as I was taking the last picture a gentleman in a suit asked “What newspaper are you with and did you ask for permission to take pictures?”

I was appalled by the question and enraged by the attitude and the tone. This was a public space, a souq I had frequented often. It was not a closed construction zone. And so I responded I am a concerned citizen taking pictures. He insisted I had to have permission to do so. Why? Why do I need permission to pictures of something so public and open? Was it a military zone I had stumbled upon? A matter of national security? Or better yet a foreign embassy? And who was he to ask permission from?

Too long have we been submissive when there is no need. I was not breaking any law, I was not doing anything unethical or strange. I merely brought out a camera and clicked away. But this mentality, that we have to ask permission, submit to someone of a higher authority at every turn and at every step is ridiculous. The idea that you have to represent a newspaper or an official body to take a picture of some public works was preposterous.

I stood my ground and in fact told the man, that I was exercising my constitutional right to express myself peacefully. He still insisted that I ask permission, he wanted to know who I represented. I told him I was taking a picture of the column, does he own the column? He said he did, “as do I, as a citizen of this country, as a resident of this city, it is my column too!” He wanted to know who I represented.“I represent myself. I represent my blog. I represent the citizens of this city. I am a Ammani.”

The exchange left a very bitter taste in my mouth after I was exalted about the efforts and the work done to restore this piece of downtown history. I got my pictures and I stood my ground. But why does everything have to be a power struggle? Why does such a simple thing have to become so contentious? This blog post was supposed to be about the history of the souq, and the efforts to bring it back to life after it was burned down. Instead it is now about a man from the municipality who thinks he owns this city!

Here are a couple of the contentious pictures from the restored souq downtown follow:

Downtown Banner at souq

A renewed store

A renewed store