TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Ramadan festivities and decorations which usually adorn the streets of Tripoli are noticeably scarce this year, leaving the city dark and gloomy. The cheer of the Ramadan season has been dampened after gunbattles in Lebanon’s second-biggest city, a poor economy and an influx of refugees.
Sufi dances and parades that were once a source of pride for the city’s residents are now rare.
Mohammad Othman, an older man from Tripoli, is upset over what he calls the lack of Ramadan spirit.
“When we were kids we used to wait impatiently for the beginning of the holiday,” he says.
“It has special memories like listening to prayers from Sufi orders. We used to also wait for the iftar cannon and sunset prayers and then go down to break the fast with so many family members,” Othman adds.
But he and other city residents say those traditions are becoming harder to sustain due to the difficult times.
Periodic gunbattles between Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods have killed dozens and wounded over 100 this year.
Fighting spilled over into the Ramdan month when clashes reignited between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods over the weekend, wounding 14.
When the sun sets and the few Ramadan decorations fall dark with the electricity outages, residents stop going out into the streets because of increased security concerns.
As a result, many shop owners have decided to shutter their stores during a time when they would typically be doing brisk business.
Aid organizations that usually give food to Tripoli’s needy have seen their resources stretched by thousands of Syrians who have taken refuge in the city after fleeing the conflict in their home country.
Local aid groups believe that there as many as 15,000 refugees in the northern city alone.
Iftar meals in general are being slimmed down as a result of spikes in the prices of food and a slumping economy. Basic staples are costly and extra expenses like sweets are almost out of reach for many.
“A bowl of fattoush now costs more than LL20,000, which is the daily wage of a worker” says Um Mohammad, who lives in Tripoli’s old souks area.
“Average prices have increased on the eve of Ramadan and prices have more than doubled for no apparent reason, pushing fasting people to only buy vegetables that they can afford,” she adds.
Some say internal rivalries inside Tripoli’s municipal council have distracted it from taking care of Ramadan preparations in the city. In the meantime, Tripoli’s Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry is working to pick up the slack.
Toufic Dabbousi, treasurer of the chamber, says he hopes government efforts can help turn around the holiday season.
“We hope that all residents of the city will join efforts on the national level to revive it and put it on the right track,” he adds.
Businessman John Thabet agrees, saying the deteriorating security situation is one of the many reasons for the economic slowdown and that everyone in the city will need to come together to turn things around.
“No one can change the image of the city alone. This requires efforts by everyone and has positive impacts on everyone,” he adds.
Not everyone has quite as bleak an outlook. The head of the Association of Bakery Owners in the north, Abdullah Mir, says that giving and coming together during trying times is the spirit of the holiday and many in Tripoli are working their hardest in order to help those in need.
“Ramadan is the month of goodness and blessing. We open our bakeries 24 hours a day, and Tripoli remains the mother of the poor despite all circumstances,” Mir adds, while giving away kaak and bread to poor families.
“People get used to troubles that happen every now and then, and they are more concerned with earning a living than the security situation,” he says.
Mir adds that the people in the city adapt, and life goes on, even during the worst of clashes.
“Once shooting stops people flock to streets and scramble to get what they need,” he says. “Whoever visits Tripoli figures out that whatever is being said about the city is untrue, and we see how lively the city is.”