BEIRUT/TRIPOLI/SIDON: Spirits remained low on the eve of the Eid al-Adha as a deteriorating security situation and worsening economic conditions put a damper on a normally jubilant holiday.
While traffic was heavy and shops displayed their finest new garments, shortbread pastries and perfumes Monday, most residents remained adamant that this year’s Eid, which falls on Tuesday, was far from being a joyous occasion.
Many went so far as to refuse to celebrate the occasion, such as Haitham Bsat, from Sidon.
“There is no Eid this year,” he said from inside his shop, Champ Sport, in the crowded Beirut neighborhood of Mar Elias.
Bsat told The Daily Star that he would not be celebrating with his family due to the waning economy. Many people said they would spend the holiday working to make ends meet.
“We are all busy with our own businesses,” he said. “Year after year, celebrations are disappearing, and our responsibilities are growing.”
Bsat added solemnly that the pervasive mood in the country was not joyous and that “it doesn’t feel like Eid.”
Tensions have been high in Beirut’s southern suburbs after a car bomb exploded in the Hezbollah stronghold of Ruwaiss in August during the evening rush hour, killing 30 people and wounding over 300. A car bomb earlier in July ripped through the suburb of Bir al-Abed, wounding over 50.
While many other families in Beirut were insistent on celebrating the occasion regardless of local and regional instability, like Bsat, they said business was slow and their morale low.
“It’s not the same this year,” said Hana Chmeisany, who owns Patisserie Mille Delices on a quieter street of the neighborhood of Moseitbeh.
The patisserie, replete with mouth-watering pastries and frosted cakes ready to be taken home, was empty for the most part.
“The roads are empty, the usual hustle and bustle of Eid just isn’t there,” Chmeisany said.
In the neighborhood of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, however, cars honked loudly as residents flocked to the streets, rushing toward stores offering all-out sales on clothing and perfume. Many were also gathered outside butcher shops to prepare for the feast the following day.
But despite appearances, spirits were still low, according to 22-year-old Zahi Naja, owner of Naja Cell, a mobile shop situated in the neighborhood’s busiest street.
While Naja was determined to celebrate Eid with his family and friends, he said his optimism had been lagging in the past two years.
“Celebrations are not the same,” he said. “Everything is different.”
He noted that the deteriorating security had made it impossible to mark happy celebrations.
Many residents and business owners in the neighborhood agreed with Naja, adding that economic strains had also made it difficult to maintain the Eid tradition of preparing a feast and buying presents. Several people told The Daily Star that they felt less jubilant than usual for the holiday.
Not too far from Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, in the Beirut Souks in Downtown, activity was slow as just a few dozen people were seen walking by empty stores, on the eve of the Muslim holiday.
“In general, nothing in the country is going right,” a woman who chose to remain anonymous said as she emerged from one of the clothing stores with her children.
She also cited a declining economy as the reason most Lebanese felt less than joyous.
In Tripoli, activity has been somewhat normal and traffic heavily congested as residents rushed to buy new clothes and fresh food, but many shop owners told The Daily Star that their businesses were not thriving as they used to this time of year. Many said they witnessed a considerable decrease in clientele, particularly because of security concerns.
Twin car bombings in Tripoli killed 47 people and wounded over 500 in August, and the northern city has been subject to battles between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, prompting security forces to be deployed in the area earlier this month.
The coastal city of Sidon, however, managed to maintain some of its celebratory spirit following recently imposed security measures. The heavy security deployment, ironically, worked to the advantage of the shoppers, because cars were not permitted to park near shopping areas, giving customers time to roam.
Syrian refugees constituted a large number of shoppers in the Jammed Souks as customers rushed toward clothing and shoe stores over the weekend. Awqaf Street, as well as the streets of Moutran, Fakhreddine, Al-Shakiriyeh, Riad al-Solh and the old Sidon souks, witnessed a throng of consumers flocking toward clothing stores offering discounts, not to mention bakeries and pastry shops offering a large selection of holiday sweets.
Many, however, frequented used clothes stores and shoe-repair shops, reflecting the effect of the floundering economy on the shoppers. – with additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari and Antoine Amrieh