Tripoli Renovates Historic Bab al-Tabbaneh Market

We have never seen anyone paying attention to the area except these past few days (Photo: Adel Karoum)

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shopkeepers in Tripoli’s Zaki al-Imam market take a break from work as municipal officials restore this popular center of commerce. While some welcome the repairs, others question this sudden flurry of activity.

The sunrays peer through the ventilation openings of the iron-covered Zaki al-Imam market in Bab al-Tabbaneh, where Tripoli's municipality is carrying out major renovations as locals look on with a mix of skepticism and anticipation.

"We have no problem closing for a few more days before the market reopens, even better than it was," says one shop owner.

Although most families here live one day to the next with little savings, over 60 shopkeepers agreed to close down for nearly two weeks as Tripoli's municipality rehabilitates the market.

At first impression, Zaki al-Imam is a popular market, where women and homemakers from the poorest and most crowded neighborhood in Tripoli do their shopping. The market was established during the Ottoman period and named after a local dignitary. Normally, its narrow road is lined with tiny shops selling produce, dairy and meat products, and handicrafts, as dozens of other vendors spread their goods along the sidewalk.

"Prices here are significantly less than those for the same products outside the market," says another shop owner. "I'm impatiently awaiting the completion of the rehabilitation work so that I can return to my shop and make a living."

Photographs of the late Khalil Akkawi, founder of the Popular Resistance in Bab al-Tabbaneh, can be seen throughout the market and surrounding area, which has suffered bitterly in recent years from armed clashes with the nearby Jabal Mohsen neighborhood. Local residents hope the renovation will give a boost to the struggling local economy.

Tripoli municipal official Khaled Subuh explains that the northern city's municipality is working on "renovating the worn-out infrastructure of the water and sewage pipes before paving the road and building new sidewalks."

He says that after renewing the infrastructure, a lighting system will be installed and shop facades will be freshly painted.

"This will attract more customers to come and shop,” he says. “In the past, it was an undesirable adventure due to the mud created by the leaking pipes."

Subuh adds that upon the request of families earning a living from the market's shops, the municipality agreed to pay a total of LL14.9 million ($9.834 million) to compensate for the financial losses incurred by the rehabilitation project. This motivated the families to cooperate when they might not have out of fear of losing business.

Meanwhile, as women look down at the reconstruction from their balconies, Subuh is joined by a group of local residents and shopkeepers who want to discuss the reconstruction. Some fear the work may take longer than planned, while others remain confident that the municipality will keep its word.

"Consider this a vacation, or as if another confrontation erupted between Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Jabal and we had to close our shops," one man suggests. "After a few days, the rehabilitation work will finish and the market will be better than it was before."

But after years of neglect by the government, some express mixed feelings about this flurry of activity.

"We have never seen anyone paying attention to the area except these past few days,” says Abdul-Majid Hayek, a shopkeeper. “The only presence we have seen from the state here is collecting the garbage."

Subuh explains that Bab al-Tabbaneh "continues to pay a high price without profiting from the spoils, although any small project in the area seems big and many residents benefit from it."

One man thinks that other markets in Bab al-Tabbaneh will be jealous of this renovation project and will request similar initiatives. He asks Subuh whether the municipality is able to renew the whole of Bab al-Tabbaneh.

"We managed to secure compensation for Bab al-Tabbaneh estimated at LL1.8 billion ($1.2 billion) through the government and we hope to implement similar projects with this amount," Subuh replies.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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