Wednesday, March 31, 2021

In Beirut: Let the old dead make room for the new dead

If you have not read Milan Kundera's "Let the old dead make room for the new dead", I suggest you should. Whereas "new" is an euphemism in this case, it seemed fitting that the only  new ad in town, on just two billboards, was one for dead politician Michel Murr who died on January 21, 2021. The rest? Nothing. Just old ads now torn and losing colors, a testimony of what advertising is in Lebanon today.

I spoke at length about the state of advertising in 2020, and how the numbers dwindled and dwindled last year, till there was none (because when you subtract the costs of trying to fix the agencies after the August 4 explosion, the numbers not only disappear but become negative). There was some animations on Instagram and social media, this year none. 

Beirut is broken. Totally, completely, and utterly broken. Whole malls are padlocked, the few shops open far and in between are empty. I spoke to a shop owner and he said "if I was renting, I'd have left it closed, but I own my shop, I want keep the pretense I am still alive. Oh, and sitting at home with my wife only led to explosive arguments so might as well come here and spend the day." This alone tells you what the situation is.

I was at a famous sweets shop buying the Maamoul Easter sweets - the price per kilo tripled since last year. No less than 4 other people went in, asked about prices and went out without buying. Understandably so. But the malaise, the feeling of tiredness is there - sweeping the city. I spoke of a perfect storm and it is. The disconnect with the political class is through a schism which is ever-widening. Not sure what they are betting on but to be honest makes little or no sense to me. The only glimmer of hope comes from Michel Hayek and his predictions about the Dollar and our money in the banks (the Dollar is supposed to go down and be available, and the money in the banks has not disappeared he says).

But on the ground, today, Michel Hayek seems off the mark. Beirut seems a shell of its self. Yes, yes, I know - the pregnant widow and all that. But throughout, there is nothing magical happening.