A shoe seller at Souk al-Marj arranges his products on April 13, 2021. – Xinhua photos

BEIRUT: During the first days of Ramadan, Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees flocked to east Bekaa’s Souk al-Marj market to shop, a tradition followed by local Muslims to mark the holy month. Dozens of booths scattered on both sides were filled with goods and foodstuffs, most of which were imported from Syria at affordable prices amid the current economic crisis.

Sherif Jaber, a 46-year-old citizen and father of eight children, told Xinhua he is happy to see popular markets back in business after the lockdown imposed by local authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19. “I am happy these markets are back as they help us secure our basic necessities at lower prices during the current crisis,” Jaber said.

For his part, Salem Ghandour, a laborer at a car repair garage, said he was running out of money as his shop closed during the lockdown, while Souk al-Marj allowed him to save 20 percent on his purchases. “I hope the government works seriously on curbing prices because people cannot bear this heavy burden of prices anymore,” Ghandour told Xinhua.

People shop for vegetables at Souk al-Marj.

Before Ramadan, a meeting was held at the Ministry of Economy and Trade earlier this month to discuss measures on preventing unjustified rise in prices of the most consumed goods. However, as Lebanon imports most of its locally consumed goods while the local currency keeps depreciating, prices continue to rise. An increase in supermarkets’ prices has benefited merchants in popular markets buying products from neighboring countries at lower prices, enabling them to attract more customers.

While arranging his goods on iron wires for display, Jamal Abu Aram, a 60-year-old merchant, told Xinhua that people have been shopping at the market despite the decline in their purchasing power following the collapse of the local currency. “Prices here remain acceptable,” he said.

Hassan Mhanna, another merchant, displays a wide variety of dates, nuts and dried fruits with a small sign indicating a cut in prices for Ramadan, hoping to attract more customers. “We did not expect such a turnout; purchasing activity is acceptable despite the drop in families’ income after the local currency’s collapse,” Mhanna said.

Meanwhile, Wajdi Abou Qanso, a 42-year-old shoe seller from the city of Rashaya in the Bekaa Valley, said he hopes that the market’s activity will continue to improve throughout Ramadan, to compensate for the losses caused by the lockdown. Lebanon has been going through its worst economic and financial crisis, which resulted in an increase in poverty and unemployment rates amid a shortage in US dollars, the collapse of the local currency, and a drop in the purchasing power of the Lebanese. – Xinhua