JEDDAH: A Twitter post has helped save a Riyadh restaurant owner from a possible prison term after construction work on the capital’s rail project left his restaurant business saddled with debts.Following a plea by Abdullah Al-Qahtani, owner of Al-Basha Koshari restaurant, on Twitter, people rushed to his eatery to offer help, showing the difference that social media can make in times of need. The restaurant owner told Arab News that his problems began when he and other shop owners on the same road were told about construction work for the train project.Al-Qahtani said that he worried about losing loyal customers who for years have enjoyed his grilled meals and koshari, a popular Egyptian dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils.“The train project company told us that the work would take no more than three months. I thought of moving to another location, but that would have cost me a lot. I decided to wait. After that we were informed that the work would need one more month,” he said.
Al-Qahtani’s daily financial losses started to mount, but he decided “it was only a matter of waiting 30 more days.”However, the situation continued for more than 16 months, leaving Al-Qahtani drowning in debts of SR1.7 million ($453,330).“Not only that, the problem has also caused us financial losses of nearly SR4 million. Some of the workers even decided to leave. The sales dropped by 90 percent,” he said.The final straw came when the road’s traffic flow was changed, leaving the restaurant isolated and difficult to reach.Al-Qahtani found himself in a real dilemma. He then thought about sharing his anguish with his compatriots through social media.“When I posted my first tweet on the issue, I thought a thousand retweets or so would be my voice to the officials, but did not expect that the retweets would reach 7,000 on the first day,” he said.
In his tweet, Al-Qahtani said that he has lost a lot because of the train project and there was no compensation.“I will soon be taken to prison due to debts that exceeded SR1.7 million in addition to losses of more than SR4 million. I care not about prison, but I’m worried about the future of my five children, who will suffer,” Al-Qahtani said in a tweet, which has made over 51,000 retweets.“I am very proud of the citizens of Saudi Arabia who have shown all possible support that reflected the social coherence of Saudi society. In fact, even foreigners have come to buy from my shop to support me. Their gesture is highly appreciated,” he said.The sales and distribution arm of STC Group, @STCChannels tweeted: “As part of our social responsibility and support for national projects, every Thursday, lunch meals for all our employees will be from Koshari Al-Basha for one month.”Another offer came from Riyad Bank, which announced in a tweet that it has allocated a fully equipped room as an outlet for the restaurant at the bank’s headquarters.The National Gas and Industrialization Co. promised a free one-time refilling for all gas cylinders at the restaurant.Meanwhile, a Riyadh travel agency offered a lucky draw on 15 air tickets to Dubai or Cairo for visitors to the restaurant. Al-Qahtani expressed his gratitude to all those who helped him, saying: “I always believe in the maxim that says, ‘Keep your head up, you’re Saudi.’”