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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Lebanon businesses try to bounce back
By Alex Klaushofer
Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut pavement cafes
Beirut's elegant pavement cafes have struggled to find customers
In normal times, business on Beirut's busy seafront would be brisk. But, in the aftermath of the recent conflict, the Beirut Cafe on the Corniche is struggling to get back on its feet.

"This place is for tourists," says cafe manager Raydan Diab. "There is nobody. Everybody left."

This would usually be the busiest time of year for him and his staff, he adds: "We don't sit as you see now. We are always working."

Even the locals who make up much of his customer base are reluctant to part with their cash, he says.

People don't want to spend money because there is no work. Lots of foreigners have left
Internet cafe owner Bassam Rashwani
"Especially on these things," he says waving at the espresso machines and racks of snacks that fill his shop.

"Coffee, drinks... People want to put some money away in case there is another war."

It's an experience that is being replicated across a country where small businesses form the backbone of the economy.

Government support

Nearby, a stone's throw from some of the capital's smartest hotels, the Maison de l'Artisan sells crafts made by Lebanese villagers to tourists hungry for gifts and souvenirs.

Dress shop reopening after ceasefire in heavily-bombed Beirut suburb
Small businesses make up the backbone of the Lebanese economy
Thanks to a government grant, the emporium was initially able to carry on buying from its 430 suppliers.

"We took the goods from the artisans and we paid for them," says director May Azar al-Jorr.

"But we cannot sell them. Now we've stopped buying because we cannot sell."

"The government supported us all summer, but now it cannot," she adds. "We cannot ask the government for everything.'

Other kinds of business are also suffering from the post-war slump.

In the fashionable district of Hamra, the internet cafe Bits'n'Bites is empty. "You're my second customer today, and I've been open since 0900," says owner Bassam Rashwani.

"At this time, normally you would come here and see lots of foreigners. Now there's no-one."

"Business is bad. It's not like before," he adds. "People don't want to spend money because there is no work. Lots of foreigners have left."

New customers

But elsewhere some shop owners are benefiting from the economy that has emerged with the arrival of foreign peacekeepers.

UN peacekeepers at Beirut shop
At least the new influx of UN peacekeepers need to go shopping
While some of his neighbouring shops in central Beirut's downtown area have closed, the owner of the Baghdadi gift shop says he is attracting a new kind of customer.

"The UN have bought many things," says Jamal Baghdadi.

"They buy little souvenirs of Lebanon - little models of Lebanese cedars and Baalbek."

The previous day, he adds, his tiny shop was flooded with customers as the French naval forces, who had been monitoring the Lebanese coastal waters under a UN mandate, prepared to leave.

"There were 100 of them," he says. "They bought things, and it was like a normal day."

Southern optimism

In south Lebanon, the part of the country most devastated by the Israeli bombardment, businesses are quickly re-establishing themselves.

The shops in the previously thriving marketplace of Bint Jbeil, a town near the Israeli border, have been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Barber's shop
Even heavy bomb damage could not stop some businesses reopening
But a banner stretched across one cavernous ruin tells would-be customers that they can now find their old halal chicken and fishmongers in another street, "near the Red Cross".

A few hundred yards away, in the part of town that is largely intact, Hassan Mohsen has just set up shop selling clothes and sports wear.

"I had another, bigger shop, a few metres from here that was destroyed completely," he says. "I didn't give up. I came here and opened a new shop."

"Little by little, it's getting better," he says, as he puts a pair of trousers in a plastic bag for a customer. "All my customers are coming to my shop again."

The manager of the local branch of Byblos Bank Ali Saad is proud of the way his business community is bouncing back.

"Six days after the ceasefire, I had the banking system working. I was online, real time, with the whole world," he says.

"It meant a lot to people that the bank opened that fast. It brings life back to the place and the economy."


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