The people of Ben Guerdane, Tunisia’s southern gateway to Libya, are living through difficult economic times. A depression has hit the Al-Magharebia market, commonly known as the “Libya market.”
Tunisian traders import a wide range of commodities, such as cigarettes, clothes, and automotive equipment, at low prices from Libyan cities and then sell them in Tunisia in what is known as “Libya markets,” which are spreading across Tunisian cities. The largest such market is in Ben Guerdane.
“If the situation stays as it is, traders will lose all means of subsistence, and consumers will not be able to meet their needs due to price increases,” said trader Al-Hussein Ashahomi, owner of a clothing and furniture shop in the “Libya market” in Ben Guerdane, to Tunisia Votes.
Ben Guerdane is in Medenine state, known as “gate to the desert” in Tunisia's far south.
A few months ago, before the revolution in Tunisia and the armed conflict in Libya, Ben Guerdane’s “Libya market” was one of the most prominent border trading points between Tunisia and Libya, consisting of about 200 stores offering a wide variety of commodities. It is estimated that the market attracted 45,000 visitors every week from across Tunisia. Ben Guerdane’s population is about 80,000.
Sitting in front of his store, Ashahomi said, “The area is suffering from an intense and comprehensive economic depression that is especially clear in the ‘Libya Market.’ The government needs to develop a plan to rescue the region’s economy generally, find solutions to enable the area’s traders and young people to establish projects, and create job opportunities that compensate for the economic crisis hitting the city.”
Regarding the market’s profits from financial transactions and commodities before the crisis, the trader said, “Profits ranged from 1,000–2,000 dinars for each trader daily, and could reach 5,000–8,000 dinars weekly, depending on the trader’s capability.”
As a result of the significant shortage in goods and craftsmen, prices have increased and in some cases even doubled. Mrs. Fatima, interviewed while shopping in the market, complained about the noticeable increase in clothes prices: “A pair of trousers that used to cost 20 dinars now costs 35 dinars,” she said, but she said she “has no choice but to buy them.”
The lack of craftsmen, high prices and the absence of visitors from inside the country have pushed many store-owners to close their doors in Libya market, especially since the closing of the border crossing at Ras Jedir—the only source of passing commodities. The border crossing was closed soon after the armed conflict in Libya began between the so-called Libyan rebels and Gaddafi troops—a conflict that has forced about 10,000 people, most of them Egyptian and sub-Saharan African workers, to flee Libya.
A women’s clothing store owned by the trader Mohammad Al-Sa'ede is but one example of the stores closed in Libya. He closed his store because there are no export markets other than those of Turkey and Syria, where the prices of goods prices are high, and whose share of the market is small in comparison to that of Libya.