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Cape Town's Muslim residents regret not reading the fine print

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

For the Muslim residents of the colorful Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town, South Africa, it was a hotel development they could live with. They would not object to the new $43 million hotel on their doorstep – if the owners agreed not to sell alcohol.

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For the Coral International Hotel Group, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, it was an easy decision: the first “dry” Muslim-friendly hotel in Cape Town aimed to please World Cup guests when it opened in late 2009. Now, 18 months later, residents regret not having studied the small print. The 137-bed hotel has been sold to Hilton Hotels, which is applying for a liquor license.

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Bo-Kaap, on the edge of Cape Town’s city center, used to be known as the Malay Quarter with 90 percent of its 10,000 residents made up of Muslims, most of whom abstain from alcohol. With its brightly colored houses and cobbled streets, the suburb is popular among tourists. Osman Shaboodien, chairman of the Bo-Kaap Civic Association, says residents petitioned and demonstrated ahead of the liquor license board hearing to try to prevent a license from being granted to the new owner.

Hilton spokeswoman Davina Martin says any alcohol would be served discreetly “in an effort to meet the needs of our diverse guests, while being sensitive to the cultural environment in which we operate.”