Alzahra Sunaidi –
Sheikh Said al Moqbali travels 30kms daily from his home in Bat, a small village located east of Ibri, to Ibri Souq located at the heart of the wilayat in order to manage and supervise his small shop.
He is one of the oldest traders in the souq and his longevity not only in business but in life as well has made him quite a popular man in the market.
He is recognised by the locals in the market for the way he walks, the way he greets others, and the way his walking stick makes a ticking sound on the pavement. His beard, just like the souq, has undergone lots of changes in the last 40 years.
Despite his old age, Sheikh al Moqbali is not showing signs of stopping anytime soon. As long as people come to his small shop, he will be there to sell them traditional items he has been selling for the last four decades.
Ibri Souq is an important landmark and an active economic and tourism centre in Al Dhahirah Governorate. Considered to be the most popular and largest souq in the governorate, its location of being adjacent to Ibri Castle makes it an accessible place to go.
The souq is built in a style reminiscent of ancient Arabic and Islamic architecture. The shops, like the strategic division of old souqs, are separated into gold and silver shops, textiles, food and Arab supplies as well as an area for selling animals which daily auction starts at 7 am and a dizzying scene of sellers and buyers of goats, sheep, cows and camels.
Yosif al Moqbali, an architect, shared that the souq is built upon ancient knowledge and “was built in a wonderful architectural style with wide corridors and a high ceiling which has holes that allow the sun to enter in an exquisite way.”
“The design allows for people to see the long aisles and thus easy spotting of the things they love to buy. The wide corridors allow for the exchange of greetings and the busy movement of people going in and out,” he said.
Some of the shops operating to this day has been there for as long as the souq was opened four decades ago.
Ahmed al Waili is also one of the most famous traders in the souq. He inherited his shop from his father when he died while he was just 18. Ahmed is now more than 50 years old.
Since he stepped in to manage the business, he has expanded the shop and now, is the preferred location to buy different grains like rice and wheat.
Ali al Waili also spent his childhood and youth playing at the corridors of Ibri souq. Selling sweets, biscuits and other food items, his souq has been his only source of income for the last 30 years.
“I’d been here since my younger days. People still come here to buy the things they need and in the last 30 years, my shop has provided for my family,” he said.
There are several other shops that have stood the test of time, Salim Al Yaqobi has been selling building materials, added coffee and dates to what he trades and is now the go-to place for his patrons who also enjoys his conversations.
“While people still are coming, it’s not the same as before,” he shared noting that he noticed a decline compared to its earlier days.
Several of the store owners noted that while it’s still a good place for business, some old store owners are worried about continuity.
Said al Waili, son of another souq owner Abdullah A Waili, said that his father has grown old and sick and cannot continue becoming a seller.
“Many of the shops that had been here for a long time may close down because the sons of business owners are not interested in running the business,” he said.
“Instead of carrying the legacy of their fathers, they look for other businesses or prefer to get employed somewhere else,” he added.
Ahmed al Waili suggested that interest in Ibri Souq can be made even better if it is developed by relevant authorities.
“Most of the properties surrounding the souq has been bought by the government. We originally thought they will be developed to increase foot traffic in the area but we had been waiting five years but nothing has changed,” he said.
“To develop it into a full traditional market — that would definitely attract visitors,” he said.
Sunaidi al Sheaili, deputy head of the Municipal Council in Al-Dhahirah Governorate, shared that while the government bought the properties surrounding the Ibri Castle for development, it didn’t push through because of financial reasons.
He said however that they are still looking into how to improve the souq within their means and is considering the interior parts of the souq to be totally dedicated to traditional crafts.