BEIRUT: As Ramadan approaches, Beirut and other cities lack the decorations that filled the streets for this occasion. Instead, photos of parliamentary candidates are plastered everywhere.
Only a few modest banners are raised, reminding people to donate to charity during the holy month.
Lebanon is grappling for the third year in a row with a crippling financial crisis, which has pushed many people below the poverty line, resulting in growing numbers of beggars on the streets. The crisis has also heavily affected the middle class, whose incomes have fallen with the depreciation of the local currency against the dollar, while others have been laid off with the closure of hundreds of institutions, factories and shops. .
With rising unemployment on the one hand, and the dollarization of the most basic needs – including the monthly subscription to the electricity generator and fuel – on the other, most Lebanese are barely surviving.
Neighborhoods with more than one hour of electricity supply per day from the government are considered lucky. Fuel prices have risen dramatically. Taking a taxi costs 36,000 Lebanese pounds ($23) for a round trip – it was 2,000 Lebanese pounds ($1.30) before the crisis.
Neamat, a mother of five who buys vegetables at a popular market in Tariq Al-Jdideh, told Arab News: “May God help us. Each Ramadan is more difficult than the previous one. A pack of bread now costs 10,000 Lebanese pounds and I need two a day. The prices of fruits and vegetables are insane, while everything is local. A kilo of cucumber costs 35,000 Lebanese pounds, a head of lettuce 20,000 Lebanese pounds. A kilo of chicken breast is around 200,000 Lebanese Pounds and our local butcher told us prices are expected to rise further this month. A gallon of vegetable oil costs 500,000 Lebanese pounds.
Neamat said: “With the Ukrainian crisis, prices have gone up even more; as if we need more adversities in Lebanon while our young people are unemployed.
The Lebanese financial system has collapsed since 2019 under the weight of sovereign debt and the system of corruption that governs it. Meanwhile, politicians have yet to reach agreement on a stimulus package good enough for the International Monetary Fund to bail out Lebanon.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value and prices have increased significantly as Lebanon is highly dependent on imports. The army’s monthly salary has fallen to the equivalent of 50 dollars; previously it was $900.
When the Lebanese discuss the price of goods, they do not spare their officials.
Zuhair Al-Masry, a retired international soccer referee, told Arab News: “Last Ramadan, the exchange rate was around 16,000 Lebanese pounds per dollar. It has now risen to 23,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. The cost of fuel has doubled and the prices of all goods have increased. A gallon of jallab, a popular fruit syrup during Ramadan, cost 25,000 Lebanese pounds last year; it now costs 140,000 Lebanese pounds. A kilo of simple Arabic sweets cost 35,000 Lebanese pounds; it is now 100,000 Lebanese pounds. Sometimes I envy those who have diabetes.
Mohammed Al-Hallaq, owner of a small shop in one of Beirut’s working-class neighborhoods, told Arab News: “The rise in prices is unprecedented. People can’t stand it, but they will definitely fast and so far no one has starved. May God bless us during this holy month.
Mustafa, a concrete trader who is out of work due to the economic crisis, has complained that he cannot afford everything he needs for Ramadan. “They said help will come during Ramadan from the Gulf countries. I don’t know why they left us alone to suffer this injustice.
Umm Imad, an elderly woman who lives in the southern suburbs of Beirut, said: “People who receive their salaries in dollars, including families of Hezbollah members and employees who work in institutions who pay part of their dollars, and families who have relatives working abroad and sending them dollars, are doing well. They can afford to buy meat and fish during Raman; their iftar meals will be the same as every year, undisturbed by what others are going through.
Shops that sell Arabic sweets, usually popular during Ramadan, have changed their recipes to include more affordable ingredients. They use almonds instead of pine nuts, the kilo of which costs $100, while Aleppo pistachios are replaced by the cheaper Sudanese pistachios, so customers don’t pay much for sweets and traders can still sell their products.
Najah Zahra, branch manager at Al-Baba Sweets, said, “We try to take into account the prevailing living conditions. The costs of raw materials such as sugar, flour and oil were affected by the rise in the dollar exchange rate and the Ukrainian crisis. Even getting enough materials requires a double effort.
Zahra said, “Our chefs are inventing new items at a lower cost and in a slightly smaller size so customers can still afford them.”
Maher Al-Taweel, who monitored the conditions of mosques overseen by Dar Al-Fatwa, expected Taraweeh prayers to be held by candlelight.
“There is no electricity at night; what do people have to do for suhur? Not all mosques can afford to pay more than two million Lebanese pounds per month for generators. Some wealthy citizens provided inverters to some mosques to provide minimum lighting. Others bought solar panels to light mosques at their own expense. Yet many mosques will hold Ramadan prayers by candlelight,” he said.
Al-Taweel said: “No Ramadan decorations on the streets this year. They have become a luxury because they are priced in dollars. Those who used to put up decorations would instead donate the money to charities, which have been very active on social media this year in an effort to reach as many people as possible.