Shisha smoking makes quiet reappearance in Khartoum

Wed May 1, 2013 10:06am EDT
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By Ulf Laessing

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - For Sudanese businessman Mohamed Ali the tedium of the evening hours is finally over - his favorite shisha cafe in the capital Khartoum has reopened after a two-year break.

"I come here every day. I love to be here and smoke water pipe with my friends and socialize," said Ali, sitting at a table in a noisy shisha cafe on the top floor of a hotel.

Enormously popular across the Middle East and in North Africa, shisha smoking is frowned upon in conservative Muslim countries such as Sudan or Saudi Arabia on "morality" grounds.

Khartoum city authorities revoked the licenses of shisha cafes two years ago after radical preachers said the practice - which involves inhaling flavored tobacco, or shisha, through a water pipe also known as a hookah or arghila - not only damaged the health but also provided unmarried men and women an opportunity to mix.

But the realities of the country's moribund business environment and economy since South Sudan seceded in 2011 mean it is creeping back into daily life.

Local authorities have allowed shisha smoking back in "touristic hotels and restaurants", and they tend to look the other way in some other venues.

A few large restaurants have also started to stage live music events that they stopped with the shisha ban because some Islamists deem such performances as "haram", or forbidden.

The return of the cafes is welcome news for the young Sudanese who complain about the capital's dull nightlife.   Continued...

Customers play domino as they smoke waterpipes at a Shisha cafe in Khartoum April 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah