Lebanon Eid: Keeping the Wolves at Bay
From Tripoli to the South, Lebanese families are feeling the effects of the economic crisis more than ever. As they prepared to mark Eid al-Fitr, celebratory feelings could scarcely muffle their concerns for the coming weeks and months.
Tripoli’s merchants are apprehensive about security incidents that might shatter their hopes for the festive season. All they want is for the remaining days of Eid al-Fitr to pass peacefully.
In truth, the overarching concerns among retailers reflect the magnitude of the economic crisis that has been blighting Tripoli for years now. Fears abound that any potential security event might upset the anticipated economic activity that could help mitigate the chronic downturn in the city.
Mohammad Meri, who owns a chidren’s clothes store in Souk al-Bazerkan in Tripoli, pinned his hopes on the last week of Ramadan, because “during the rest of the year, whole days often come and go without me earning a single lira,” he said.
Meri is not the only retailer who had high hopes about the last week of the Muslim month of fasting before Eid. In fact, the majority of shop owners in Tripoli, particularly down-market shops, were keeping their businesses open after iftar time until the early hours of the morning , whereas in previous years the shops would always close in the late afternoon.
The hustle and bustle on the streets and markets packed with cars and window-shoppers does not materialize into any gain for the retailers, as the majority just “browse around,” looking at the goods or asking about price and quality, but only a few of them actually buy anything.
Owners of pastries and chocolate shops said that sales have fallen by more than half, compared to 2011, blaming the scarcity of cash among the shoppers. This, they say, is due to many things, including the fact that Eid al-Fitr falls in the middle of the month this year.
According to money exchangers, remittances from abroad have seen a significant decline. Also the expatriates did not show up in large numbers this year, especially those living in Gulf countries, because of the security situation in Syria.
This same situation also had an impact on large segments of middle to low-income households in Tripoli and its surrounding areas. At this time of year, they would usually go to Homs in Syria to do their shopping, as they would save at least 30 percent with the price differences between the two cities.
In the South, meanwhile, specifically in Aita al-Jabal, Mohammad Qiryani decided to get his kids their Eid presents early, taking advantage of favorable prices in the popular Thursday Market in Bint Jbeil. He bought small toys, hoping that his kids will wait until Eid to play with them.
For Qiryani, “Buying toys from other places is unaffordable given the high prices and the approaching school season.” He admitted that this “may not satisfy my four young children, but there is nothing I can do about it.” His eldest son, Hussein (11 years old) is upset, not only because he did not like the toys as “they break too easily,” but because “Eid in the village is dull; there is no place to go to play.”
This is echoed by Qassem Jumaa (10 years old), who fasted for Ramadan, because special Eid clothes don’t mean much to him. He doesn’t even want to wear his new clothes. Qassem said, “All what I want is for my parents to take me to a place where I can play with my friends.” “There are no playgrounds here, but there is a theme park in the neighboring village that I would like to go to.”
His brother Hassan (12 years old), meanwhile, wants a toy rifle. “We want to buy one to play with other [kids], even if they are dangerous,” he said. “But what I want most is a new phone or computer.”
Electronic devices are not affordable to everyone, so some kids decided to venture into business to make some money, like Mohammad and Hassan al-Ali (11 years old). They set up a small vending cart near the main street of their village Chaqra, and started selling fireworks and toy guns.
They say that they have managed to raise some money throughout the year, with some help from their parents in running the venture. Mohammad and Hassan are cousins and friends. During Eid they will work in shifts, said Mohammad. “I will man the cart for a while, and then when my turn comes, I will play with the toy guns with other teams from the village.”
It seems that business ideas are on the minds of a large number of the kids in the area. Hassan Murad (12 years old), from Aitaroun, also has a novel business idea. “I will borrow my grandfather’s donkey, clean it and take kids on it from one neighborhood to another for LL5000 each.” Hassan will not have any competition, “because donkeys are nearly extinct and children like them. This used to be done in the village of Chaqra, with a young boy with a donkey and a cart taking kids for rides for a fee.”
It seems that money is the main concern for children today. According to Hassan’s father, “kids need to buy many things that their parents can’t afford,” adding that “each child wants a smartphone or a computer, and these are expensive.” So using his grandfather’s donkey may help a kid buy “an iPhone or an iPad.”
These gadgets are not sold in popular markets, which saw a heavy turnout of parents wanting to buy clothes for their children for reduced prices. Many were not satisfied by the price tags they saw, even here. Fatima Qazan said, “We could only buy the most basic items for our children’s Eid clothes.”
Syria and High Prices
Several shop owners expressed worry about the lack of customers, blaming high prices on the unrest in Syria. One retailer, Ali Souli, said, “We used to buy our merchandise from Damascus and Homs, but now we have to buy Chinese goods from wholesalers in Lebanon who control prices.”
Fadi Ibrahim from Ainata said that “residents of the region were accustomed to buying their Eid necessities from Sidon, Tyre, Nabatiyeh and sometimes Bint Jbeil, but this changed because of transportation costs and higher prices.” Ibrahim added, “Now, people go to the popular markets in their areas. Even though there are many shops in the region, prices are going up because of high real estate prices, as is happening in Bint Jbeil.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.