Beirut, Lebanon – As Lebanon continues to sink, celebrating Eid al-Adha has become a later thought for many Muslims in the crisis-stricken nation.
In years past, the three-day vacation would be a time for hearty food, family reunions and gifts. Now, Lebanon’s constant economic crisis, political instability, and scarcity of basic necessities have made Eid a luxury that only a few can afford.
With almost 50 percent of the population now below the poverty line according to the World Bank, many low-income suburban residents of Beirut like Dahieh will now have to move without the most common household products.
“Before we took sweets, took the children out and ate well, but this year there is nothing. We will sit at home, ”Dahieh resident Sanaa Zein told Al Jazeera. “There is no food, sweets or drinks and, at most, we will make moujadara (a dish of lentils and rice considered the food of the poor).
“We can afford 200g of meat a week, the rest of the week we eat potatoes and simple, cheap food such as lentils and vegetarian dishes, and even these are now expensive,” he added. “Eid clothes for my grandson are impossible. He doesn’t even know that Eid is coming and maybe it’s better, so he doesn’t realize he’s missing anything. “
The resignation of former Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri last week further plunged the Lebanese lira to record lows that show no sign of declining. At the time of writing, the lira was worth LLL 23,000 per dollar. For those who rely on a Lebanese income, most wages no longer cover basic living costs.
“I thought about getting a liter of fresh milk to make rice pudding for Eid, as we can’t afford the more expensive sweets like maamoul (date cookies or crackers stuffed with nuts) that we would make in recent years , and that’s only LL60,000, before you buy sugar or rice, ”Zein said. “There can be no sweets this year. It’s best to let Eid pass us by and not waste money on these things.
“I always have to figure out what I can afford in stores, how much money I have in my bag to buy, how much things cost,” he added. “If it weren’t for my children helping me a little, I don’t know what would happen. In Lebanon there are now two types of people: the rich who live as if nothing has changed and the rest of us who can barely afford to eat.
NGOs are growing
With state aid largely absent, NGOs have been plugging gaps and trying to provide food and medicine to those who cannot afford it or find their own.
In recent years, the NGO Al Jannah Foundation (AJF) has been providing clothing and food boxes to orphans and disadvantaged families during Eid, through donations and fundraising campaigns. A few pounds of meat have been included, an important part of Eid dinners, which is now a luxury.
This year, the number of items missing from its beneficiaries and the number of people in need of help has increased dramatically.
“In 2019, I would say we had attended about 500 families throughout the year, but today we’re talking about thousands of families, and that’s just about our organization,” AJF CEO Laura Allam told All Jazeera .
“Before 2019 [and the start of the economic collapse], most of the requests we received were for surgeries and things like that. It was hardly for food or medicine or [baby] formula. These are the three most requested things in the last two months.
“Some people have told us‘ If you don’t help us, we won’t have Eid this year ’or‘ We couldn’t buy clothes for our kids last year, so we didn’t celebrate, ’” he added. “It’s about not being able to take them out that day, not being able to buy some sweets or something like that. With the current situation, I think some families won’t be celebrating Eid this year.”
AJF food packages have doubled in size since last year and aim to feed a family of five for two weeks at a time. Packages are now leaning towards a vegetarian diet, as people have adapted to frugal meals and cannot make meat or chicken dishes unless proteins are provided in the packages.
Historically, Lebanon has maintained an important middle class. Currently, a wide chasm has separated those earning in Lebanese lira and the estimated 10 percent with access to foreign exchange, who now live cheaply in the country.
While the majority of the population struggles to pay for food, Eid getaway packages are advertised everywhere, seeking to attract those with fresh dollars. Domestic tourism it has also increased in popularity during the holiday season, as a more affordable option for those on low incomes.
“You can see 10 percent of the population being talked about, traveling, going out, not even having to wait in line for gas and living life as if nothing has changed,” Fly Sama Travel and El travel agency owner Ali Arnaout said. “Some are willing to pay what they want and just want a holiday, they say they are used to going on holiday to Eid and going there, no matter what.
“By comparison, a lot of people are asking, but after calculating it in relation to the dollar, they change their minds,” he added. “The minimum cost of the package for flights and hotels is $ 500. If you’re a family with only one child, you don’t care about larger families, look for about $ 1,700 in expenses.
“It simply came to our notice then [about LL39 million] – It’s too much, so they prefer to spend part of it and go for a few days in Lebanon, ”said Arnaout.
Meanwhile, many Lebanese expatriates who now visit Lebanon for Eid find it extremely affordable, and many carry essential items from abroad. The Lebanese government has often set its hopes on tourism and the expatriate community by providing new money to help the economy.
As the situation gets darker, holidays like Eid have become just a reminder of everything the country now lacks. For struggling Lebanese, this year’s Eid has been massively overshadowed by this month’s political setback and rising cost of survival.