The struggling economy of Lebanon has seen a shortage of shoppers in the country’s streets. A report published in the news agency Reuters showcased the clothing shop of Rafi Tabakian in a Beirut suburb that was empty which otherwise would have been filled with customers during the holiday season.
“We’ve been in business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tabakian said, reported Reuters and added there has been a even though the show owners has cut down prices to attract customers.
“Now we see customers entering, asking for the price, and then leaving. It’s scary,” Tabakian, who produces and sells clothes in the densely populated, commercial Burj Hammoud neighborhood of the capital, told Reuters.
There has been decades of state corruption and waste, since the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon which has resulted in the country suffering its worst economic crisis currently. This has left the streets of the country dimmer and shopping centers emptier with its restaurants and stores almost empty.
There have been huge protests against the ruling elite because of the economic crisis as banks have implemented capital controls and there is pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound and a devalued currency has forced importers to raise prices.
And at this time of the year when it is generally a busy commercial season for Lebanon, there has been a steep plunge in hotel bookings, flights and events. The largest Christian population in the Arab world is present in Lebanon.
This is also the time when the large diaspora of Lebanon returns home to generally find the country’s streets filled with cars and decorated with lights.
However this year, December bookings in hotels have dramatically dropped to only 7 to 15% occupancy from the usual 65-75% occupancy, said Pierre Ashkar, the head of Lebanon’s hotel association.
“Hotels have closed some parts of their buildings, are giving employees unpaid leave and removing services such as free shuttle transportation to the airport to minimize losses.”
Reusing old decorations or not using them at all are being weighed out by some local councils according to reports in the media.
“We put up last year’s decorations, without adding anything because these are exceptional circumstances,” said Raymond Atieh, head of the Jdeideh municipality, north of Beirut. “The holidays are coming, but they’re coming with a pinch. People are angry…People are getting fired, paid half-salaries, or not working,” Atieh added.
It was better to help feed the poor in tough times “than to decorate and throw glitter”, said Charbel Daccache, a priest in Mount Lebanon’s largely Christian town of Adma, as quoted in the Reuters report. “Some days are harsh, others are better but it’s not the end. That’s why I tell people, let it be a joyous time.”
(Adapted from Reuters.com)