Oman’s traditional Eid markets move online during lockdown

Covid-19 restrictions fail to dampen festive mood as end of Ramadan approaches

Crowd scene with buyers and sellers at the livestock market, Nizwa, Sultanate of Oman. (Photo by: Gunter Fischer/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

With lockdown measures in place, Omanis have recreated the traditional Eid Habta markets online this year, using Amazon to buy festive clothes and sweets and even using WhatsApp to buy and sell live animals.

The government cancelled the Habta markets – usually held during the last week of Ramadan – under  restrictions brought in to curb the Covid-19 outbreak.

“I don’t remember not going to a Habta market. I have been to each one of them for as long as I can remember and everybody looks forward to getting a bargain. It is a centuries-old tradition but, sadly, this year it is being replaced by online buying," said Faisal Al Saleh, 49, a civil servant in Muscat.

"It is not the same but what can we do when all the shops are closed during the day?"

Stricter lockdown rules came into effect in Oman last Saturday, with all markets and shops, except for supermarkets, ordered to close during the day.

Movement has been restricted between 7pm and 4am for one week.

Mr Al Saleh said he is now doing almost all of his Eid shopping from Amazon. He hopes the deliveries will arrive in time for the first day of Eid.

Depending on the sighting of the moon, Eid will begin either on May 13 or May 14.

With markets closed, animal breeder Fahad Al Hadhrami moved his business online, using WhatsApp to share videos and pictures of his sheep and goats with customers. He sent the videos to some 800 people in several chat groups.

“In the last three days I already got over 70 orders of live animals, which I have started to deliver. I am not sure where this will lead to by the end of Ramadan – it could be the best sale I have ever made during the Habta market period,” said Mr Al Hadhrami, 57, from Musannah in the Al Batnah Region.

But vendors who are not connected to online channels say they are missing out on customers this Eid.

“My Habta stall is in the Nizwa souq, but the souq is closed this week under the new lockdown restrictions. I am not good with social media or online channels. I always do business when customers come to my stall, said Hashim Al Shualli, 67, a market trader in Nizwa in the Dakhliya region.

“This time, I have just been knocking on doors of houses in the area where I live to make sales. I don’t think I will do as well as other Habta periods in the past,” he added.

Other traders voiced concerns that the lockdown measures would have an impact beyond their bottom lines.

The new measures could “take away not only our businesses but also the spirit of Eid”, said Jalal Al Hadhrami, 34, a trader from Ibri in the Sharqiyah region.

Oman reported 787 new Covid-19 infections on Monday and 18 deaths, the highest number of daily fatalities so far this year.

The total number of cases registered in the country has reached 202,137, with 2,138 deaths, since the outbreak began.