Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Protesting vegetable and fruit vendors empty crates in a street in Sidon yesterday. Mahmoud Zayyat / AF
Protesting vegetable and fruit vendors empty crates in a street in Sidon yesterday. Mahmoud Zayyat / AF

Lebanese learn it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease

In Lebanon, everyone copies everyone else. Shopkeepers copy store layouts, towns replicate attention-grabbing feats, and even kidnappers know the score, writes Michael Karam.

There are now four convenience stores on my small street in Beirut. For the past 11 years there were two, one on opposite corners of one end and run by elderly men who had an unspoken agreement: "You have your customers and I have mine".

Raymond had the best "pitch", being closer to the Hotel Albergo. His shop was the obvious destination for hotel staff on their break and the taxi drivers who "worked" the entrance. The other man - I know him only as Mr Moor - catches pedestrians heading west on Rue Abdel Wahab El Inglizi and has the added advantage of selling newspapers and magazines. It was, on the surface at least, a convivial arrangement.

But last year, a frisson of mild excitement rippled down Rue Albert Naccache. What was once a computer store was taken over by a young man called Mohammed and turned into a grocery. Mohammed's shelves were more ordered and his shop better lit. He also sold a modest but fresh, and well presented, selection of fruits and vegetables. It did not take much for my housekeeper to decide where she was going to shop, and soon receipts bearing the legend "Mini Market Mo" began appearing under fridge magnets.

Raymond maintained a quiet dignity in the face of this challenge, but even Mo could not claim to have wholly conquered the street. Only two weeks ago, another store, almost identical in layout, design and stock to Mini Market Mo appeared not four doors down. The retail Darwinism has begun.

Then again, in Lebanon, everyone copies everyone else. After the people of the south made the world's biggest plates of hummus, tabbouleh and kibbeh, wine producers in Lebanon went on to fill the world's biggest wine glass, while Christians erected the world's biggest lit crucifix. On Sunday, the northern coastal city of Batroun jumped on the record-breaking bandwagon and made the world's biggest glass of lemonade.

Batroun is apparently famed for its lemonade, and the event afforded Gebran Bassil, an MP and the energy minister, respite from being flayed for his handling of the electricity crisis. It was also an opportunity to remind everyone that making giant glasses of fruit juice was better for Lebanon's image than blocking roads at the slightest hint of a grievance. But I fear that Mr Bassil may have urged us to shut the stable door after the proverbial horse has bolted. Road blocking has, it appears, gripped the nation. What started as a means of protesting at the disgraceful shortage of electricity has morphed into a form of national expression.

In the past seven days alone, the families of the 11 Shia pilgrims kidnapped in Aleppo in May staged a huge sit-in on the airport road, while aggrieved vegetable sellers in Sidon did the same, to protest against being moved to a new market location. In Beirut on Tuesday, women staged a mass "die-in" in front of parliament to protest against lax laws on domestic violence; while the residents of Zalka and Jal El Dib were so forceful when they took to the streets to protest against the demolition of a bridge that left many areas of the two northern suburbs virtually inaccessible, the government has approved the building of a tunnel and overpass.

And if spontaneous expressions of anger cannot set every pulse racing, the kidnapping and armed-robbery sectors are also enjoying something of a revival. Five banks have been robbed in recent weeks with various degrees of success.

Abductions are also on the rise. The son of the popular TV herbalist Zein Al Atat was snatched by masked men in SUVs in the mountain resort of Sawfar. He was released last week, his family denying a ransom had been paid.

"Nonsense," said a local journalist who knows how these things work. "The kidnappers will ask for US$1 million [Dh3.6m]. The family tells them to go to hell and offers $30,000. They figure 'what the heck, it's not bad money for a day's work'."

I wonder what's next.

Michael Karam is the associate editor in chief of Executive, a regional business magazine based in Lebanon

twitter: Follow and share our breaking business news. Follow us

iPad users can read the digital edition of business section as it was printed via our e-reader app. Click here

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 The Greens, villas: Q1 no change. 3BR - Dh210-250,000. 4BR - Dh210-260,000. 5BR - Dh220-300,000. Q1 2013-Q1 2014 5% rise. Pawan Singh / The National

In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014

Find out how rental prices in the prime locations in Dubai have altered during the first three months of the year and the current rates you will pay according to data provided by Asteco.

 Miele coffee maker making Cappuccino at Miele Gallery in Sama Tower in Dubai. The cost of this coffee maker is around Dh 17,000. Pawan Singh / The National

Space-age coffee comes at a price from Miele

Miele have taken the coffee machine to a new level with its Dh17,000 offering that is built into your kitchen.

 The bridge of Seajacks Hydra, as the wind farm installation vessel undergoes finishing touches and testing works at Lamprell’s Hamriyah facility in Sharjah before its planned delivery on June 2, 2014. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Building the Seajacks Hydra

The Seajacks Hydra, a wind farm installation vessel, is undergoing finishing touches and testing works at Lamprell’s Hamriyah facility in Sharjah before its planned delivery on June 2, 2014.

 The Wind, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition takes place from April 14 to April 16. Above, the Dewa showroom during last year’s Wetex. Jaime Puebla / The National

April corporate and economic calendar for the UAE and overseas

From Cityscape to Wetex to stock-market holidays to nations reporting first-quarter GDP figures, here is our helpful calendar of April's business events in the UAE and internationally.

 The rush of new supply of hotel rooms pushed Dubai occupancy rates down to 87 per cent. Sarah Dea / The National

Dubai hotel room rates rise 10 per cent

The rush of new supply pushed occupancy rates down to 87 per cent, a dip of 2.6 per cent from the previous year. Winter months are the strongest for Dubai hotels, with occupancy and prices falling to half their peaks by July.

 Get the latest information on credit cards, bank accounts and loan products in the UAE. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Rates report: Latest on UAE loans, accounts and credit cards

Souqamal.com brings you the latest interest rates on banking products in the UAE.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National