New Jordan lockdown dashes recovery hopes for small businesses

Reimposition of Friday curfew expected to aggravate socio-economic cracks worsened by the pandemic

Jordan shop-owners concerned over Friday lockdown

Jordan shop-owners concerned over Friday lockdown
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Fahed Dib's Chinese shoe business in Amman has been doing relatively well despite the coronavirus.

In the peak morning and late afternoon hours, thousands pass by his stall at the entrance to one of Amman’s largest low-income markets, in the grounds of the city’s main bus station.

But Mr Dib, a blond, green-eyed Syrian from Homs, is forecasting a fall in sales after the authorities announced the reimposition of a Friday curfew, starting this week.

“Friday is our main sales day. We will struggle again to pay rent,” he said.

He said that although he sometimes does good business during weekdays, his customers have the most time to visit and try on shoes on a Friday, the day of the week most people have off.

Businesses were hoping that pent-up demand would revive sales after the government, acting on instructions from King Abdullah, lifted most coronavirus restrictions in mid-January.

The reimposition of curfew measures was prompted by a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases caused by a more infectious coronavirus variant over the past three weeks, the government said on Wednesday.
Besides banning all movement on Fridays, a daily lockdown until 6am was also extended by two hours, beginning at 10pm instead of midnight.

Jordan's economy is in recession and the official unemployment rate is at record high of 23.9 per cent. The government increased support this year for the National Assistance Fund, which gives cash handouts to impoverished Jordanian families, by 38 per cent to $280 million.

During lockdown last year, Mr Dib dismissed his Syrian helper. He now runs the shop on his own and pays $75 rent a day to one of several Jordanian families who sublet much of the space in the vast Raghadan market.

Stallholders in the market sell everything from fresh harisseh, a sweet made of semolina and sugar, to cheap household goods.

Other vendors were frustrated by the return of the curfew cycle.

Egyptian falafel makers Ahmad Tumeh and Khaled Tala said their Jordanian employer had already informed them that he would stop paying their daily wage on Fridays.

“We lost a work day,” said Mr Tumeh, who has been in Jordan for more than a decade.

"Since Covid the market became bad for everyone," he said.

Like most workers at the market, regardless of nationality, Mr Tumeh and his compatriot have no protection and are treated as daily labourers.

Coffee stall operator Arafat Hammoud, a Jordanian, said the Friday curfew would aggravate the drop in business since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Mr Hammoud employs another Jordanian and charges 75 cents for a large cup of premium brand Turkish coffee, but also offers cheaper cups made from lower-end brands.

He said his regular customers have been asking to pay for their coffee at the end of the month, when they receive their salary.

“Others are trying to save by not drinking coffee,” he said.