Eid Business Interrupted in Lebanon

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A Lebanese boy aims at a target with a toy gun at a makeshift lunapark in the Beirut southern suburbt of Qasqas on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha or the "Feast of Sacrifice" on 26 October 2012. (Photo: AFP - Anwar Amro)

By: Amal Khalil, Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Friday, October 26, 2012

Tripoli and Saida’s local businesses took a serious hit following the assassination of security chief Wissam al-Hassan and the ensuing tension on the eve of Eid al-Adha, a major holiday.

Tripoli’s merchants and businessmen complain local gunmen forced them to shut down their stores following Friday’s explosion in Achrafieh which killed Hassan and two others. Many blamed the Sunni political leadership, with accusations particularly coming from the opposition-aligned Future Movement, which some say acts as an umbrella for a loose confederation of undisciplined armed groups including Salafi and Islamist organizations.

“We are very sympathetic towards the martyr Hassan and we have the utmost respect for him, but how do these actions benefit anyone?” asked Mahmoud Kamaleddine, who owns a clothing shop in Tripoli’s Bazirkan market.

“Must our businesses and country go to ruins so Saad Hariri can head the government again?” he continued.

Most of the city’s businessmen, shop owners and merchants agree that the latest events hurt their business interests tremendously.

A huge poster of Mikati with the words “Decent People Are With You” was raised at Tripoli’s southern entrance and proved so popular that copies were made and sold for people to hang off their balconies and outside their homes and businesses.

Muhammad Nabulsi owns a shoe shop near the old municipality building.

“We have many reservations about Mikati’s performance but at the end of the day he is from our city, he feels our pain and he stands in solidarity with us when push comes to shove,” he said. “What good do [former Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora or [former Prime Minister Saad] Hariri do for us? For them, we are nothing but numbers.”

“Popular solidarity with Mikati in the past few days was on the rise,” he continued, adding that the prime minister “should take advantage of this solidarity and not squander it” by instructing the High Relief Commission to compensate people in Tripoli whose businesses were harmed due to the latest security breakdown.

“Merchants bought large amounts of merchandise hoping to sell it during the holiday,” said Jamal Kabbara, who owns a fabric shop in the Bazirkan market. “But the recent events made the market stagnate. We will barely sell 10 percent of our merchandise.”

Kabbara’s dilemma is not unique in the marketplace. Vendors now have their eyes on rising tensions between the Bab al-Tabaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods, which could explode and further damage business.

The deterioration of the economic situation prompted some businessmen to protest against the sit-in called for by Future Movement MP Mouin Merhebi in Tripoli on grounds that the tents disrupt traffic in the al-Maarad area, harming nearby shops and businesses.

A group of Tripoli merchants reportedly complained to Future Movement MP Mohammad Kabbara, saying that “If Mouin Merhebi wants to topple Mikati’s government, let him go to Akkar and organize a sit-in there.”

It appears that these complaints prompted MP Kabbara to disengage from Merhebi’s campaign of “civil disobedience” calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah.

Saida’s Unfortunate Holidays

During Eid al-Fitr, Saida was still trying to catch its breath. The city was pulling itself together after the sit-in led by the Salafi cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir against Hezbollah’s weapons that blocked the city’s main road for 33 days, striking at the heart of Saida’s economy.

Many people who live in areas around the city stopped coming to Saida during that time, especially after several passing cars were attacked by people taking part in the sit-in.

Many merchants and shop owners told Al-Akhbar they were never able to make up for their economic losses due to the sharp decline in demand.

Although the sit-in was disbanded, “the discourse of sectarian incitement adopted by some Saida residents put off many of their neighbors who turned from Saida’s market to the Tyre or Nabatiyeh markets,” said one businessman who declined to have his name printed.

This year, Saida’s business community hoped that the market would recover and demand for new clothes, gifts and sweets for Eid al-Adha would rise once again.

But the Achrafieh bombing once again dashed merchants’ hopes. Sectarian tensions rocketed as armed gunmen fired their weapons into the air, blocked the roads with burning tires and setting up checkpoints to ask passersby for identification.

Tensions were exacerbated by the Future Movement’s call last Saturday for a general strike and its deployment of two gunmen to go to the market and force shop owners to close up.

Business owners warned against the city’s slide into internal strife, which has had and continues to have a negative effect on the economy. Even though the shops opened late on Sunday and Monday, clients stayed away and sales remained low.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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