Lebanon News

Economy protests bring small profit for some

BEIRUT: Hundreds of thousands may be protesting a dire economy and the politicians who are seen as the cause of the problem, but those same demonstrations may provide some financial respite for vendors.

With most shops in Beirut’s Downtown closed, water, juice, kaak, cake, cookies and even nargilehs were sold Sunday along the street stretching from Riad al-Solh Square to Martyrs’ Square.

“When I saw the number of people yesterday [Saturday], I needed a way to make money and benefit,” Rida Fakih, who sold nargilehs outside the government-owned Azarieh building, said.

The nargileh is being sold for LL5,000 (about $3.30) at the protest in Downtown Beirut - infamous for its luxurious cafes where the nargileh costs no less than LL15,000.

Fakih had brought in 20 nargilehs, and sold between 50 to 60 by Sunday noon.

In addition to nargilehs, Fakih is selling water, juice and cake - at no extra cost than a regular mini market. Many people, who cannot afford to buy the nargileh, brought their own.

“We protest raising the price of tobacco,” Ali Daher said.

Recent proposals by the government to impose taxes on citizens already suffering from the country’s crippling economy has sent hundreds of thousands to Lebanon’s streets for four straight days, demanding the removal of the regime and the resignation of Cabinet.

“You do not fill the state Treasury with taxes,” Alaa Daher said after puffing a big cloud of white smoke.

On the opposite side, a man stands next to his electrical scooter that is filled with water bottles, juice boxes and chocolate bars.

“I am protesting. But if I do not work, I cannot bring food and I have four kids. What can I do?” the scooter owner, who declined to give his name, said.

Although a protest in Tripoli brought together over 20,000 people, a group of three people brought their food cart to Beirut to sell Tripolitan kaak - a small round kaak, filled with cheese and grilled.

“People in Tripoli are dead ... We are protesting while working because we need the cash,” Ahmad Zeytoun said as he flipped the kaak on the grill.

The second biggest city in Lebanon, Tripoli suffers from extreme poverty and high unemployment rates. No official unemployment figures exist in Lebanon, but unofficial estimates place the number at 25 percent or higher.

“There are no job opportunities in Tripoli. We are obliged to sell kaak or make water deliveries to make money,” Saad al-Zein said.

With youth unemployment particularly high, many young Lebanese face an uncertain future and resort to leaving the country in search of opportunities abroad.

“I am a financial adviser at a bank, and a candidate for a master’s degree in human resources ... but I’m leaving to Brazil because there was no hope,” Fakih said.

Since the protests erupted, “I’ve had some hope, but I fear this movement to be only a dream,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 21, 2019, on page 3.

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