At the Abu Ali River Bridge in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, Dalal (37 years old) digs through the “Bale” (second-hand clothes market) stands on clothes suitable for her children, then unfurls her hands in despair, “because the old is like the new, it is incapable of it,” as she put it.
Dalal came from Akkar to buy her family’s needs just before Eid al-Fitr, with only 150,000 Syrian pounds (equivalent to about $ 12) in her pocket, and expresses her surprise at the high prices of used clothes and shoes. She told Al-Jazeera Net, “I used to buy one piece of it for 5,000 pounds, but I found the price of the trousers 50,000 pounds, while our monthly income of 700,000 pounds (about $ 55) is not enough for us to eat and drink.” Read also The historic collapse of the Lebanese pound … 5 questions and answers How has the dollar crisis and the collapse of the pound reflected on work inside Lebanon’s ports?The price of the pound between banks and the black market … confusion exacerbating the suffering of the Lebanese people Lebanon: the collapse of the banking sector and the continuing deterioration of the living situation
She agrees with the 62-year-old law covenant, which said, “The holidays have become an occasion for agony and our feeling of extreme helplessness and deprivation,” and she complains about her pushing her to search for holiday gifts for her grandchildren on stalls of used goods, without being able to pay for them.
Eid al-Fitr comes with the start of the countdown to the process of lifting subsidies on imported basic commodities (such as food, fuel, and medicines) provided by the government through the Banque du Liban, under the pretext of depleting the latter’s hard currency reserves.
The Lebanese are waiting for prices to rise to levels that have no ceiling after the lifting of subsidies, and the exchange rate of one dollar on the black market, which controls the value of the national currency, has exceeded 12 thousand and 700 pounds (the official exchange rate is 1500 pounds).
These emergency changes in the way of life of the Lebanese – after more than half of them became poor according to international estimates – prompted many to search for alternative ways to cope with their historical crisis. Perhaps the resort of what became known as the “new poor of Lebanon” to the markets of poverty, is one of the conclusive evidence of that.
Among them, Mona Al-Atrash (37 years old) was excitedly wandering around the bales of Tripoli, carrying many bags in her hands, after she found her request for medical shoes, natural leather and clothes of international brands that she loves. To enter foreign brand stores.
She added that she discovered the quality of used goods after the crisis, and that “the clothes are not for savings, but for choosing the best quality that we do not find in stores offering light goods at exorbitant prices.”
Lebanese and Syrians
In fact, the grocery market has regained its momentum and activity after the economic crisis, despite the complaints of workers in them. Historically, the phenomenon of the spread of bales dates back to before the civil war in 1975, and Tripoli is considered one of the oldest Lebanese cities in this field, as it began to spread in the fifties of the last century, according to what some of the merchants working in it indicate.
Since 2007, the Tripoli Balat expanded, coinciding with the implementation of the “cultural heritage project” approved by the Tripoli municipality at a cost of about $ 45 million, and as a result, a large area of the “Abu Ali” river was roofed. The project has sparked many controversies in the city on the grounds that it contributes to distorting the river instead of rehabilitating it.
Contrary to the objectives of the project, there are currently about 280 racks of clothes and shoes on the roof of the “Abu Ali” river, according to Tripoli municipality’s figures, not to mention the dozens of grocery stores scattered around it, occupied by hundreds of Lebanese workers and Syrian refugees.
Also on the bridge, tons of used clothing and shoes accumulate, some of which are placed in wooden or iron containers, and others hung on the walls or hanging from the ceilings of nylon tents.
Here, the Syrian Muhammad Abd al-Rahman (23 years) – who sought refuge in Lebanon 4 years ago, points out that the collapse of the Lebanese pound equated the Lebanese and Syrians with their poverty and deprivation, “as the Eid comes when they are unable to buy a used shirt whose price has risen from 10,000 to 50,000 pounds.”
And in front of 3 large stores that sell used shoes in Tripoli, Muhammad Al-Kallas, who owns the company “Cltex” for importing used goods, and has been working since the end of the seventies, indicates that import is still continuing from all parts of the world, specifically Europe, America, Cyprus, Turkey and even Australia, but the sector has become In crisis after the collapse of the lira.
The merchants of “bale” buy their goods by the kilogram, and its price ranges between half a dollar and 20 dollars, depending on the type of goods.
The class gives an example of the losses incurred by “bale” merchants, after their profits fell to their lowest levels. “The European natural leather shoes that we sell for 50 dollars, before the crisis, cost about 75 thousand pounds.” Today, 50 dollars are equivalent to more than 630 thousand pounds, that is, touching the minimum wage (650 thousand), “but we are forced to sell it for less than that, so as not to lose our customers who have not yet accepted the new prices.”
For his part, Omar Abu Alhaf, a merchant who has been working with bales for 31 years, notes that this market has changed its conditions upside down, but the dependence of traders is no longer on those who live in extreme poverty – according to its jurisprudence – rather it has become on the middle class whose purchasing power has diminished and has become worn out. Their alternative shelter, and they may find their order after qualifying and cleaning the goods.
On a trip around the world, bales goods pass from their collection and packaging centers, then export centers in European and foreign countries, to importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, to reach consumers. Through it, NGOs, textile and freight companies, and merchants seek to take advantage of the used goods cycle, to achieve financial profits.
The reality of the bales
In the context, Mohamed Shams El-Din, a researcher at International Information, notes that Lebanon stopped importing bale goods in September 2004 by a decision of the Council of Ministers, due to speculation on locally manufactured goods, and then reversed its decision in April 2009.
Over the past years, the phenomenon of smuggling of bales has spread to Syria, and some merchants have resorted to introducing new goods under the name of “bales” because their customs duties do not exceed 5%, while fees for new goods amount to about 15% of their cost.
Shams al-Din indicates to Al-Jazeera Net that Germany tops the list of countries from which Lebanon imports “bales” at an estimated rate of 45% and its value is approximately 5 million dollars, followed by Turkey, China, America, Belgium and Britain, and this hierarchy changes from one year to another, in addition to other countries from which Lebanon imports. .
However, the value of importing “clothes” does not constitute a large percentage of Lebanon’s annual import cost, which has recently amounted to about $ 10 billion.
In 2018, according to the researcher, the value of importing bale reached 20.1 million dollars, and in 2019 it decreased to 12.7 million compared to 12 thousand and 458 tons, then the decline continued in 2020 to 9.5 million dollars compared to 9 thousand tons of used goods.
Shams El Din expects the economic collapse to reach its climax after the lifting of subsidies, “which means that the Lebanese people will resort to radically changing their habit of holidays such as different days of the year.”