Lebanon’s freelancers flock to coffee shops to work amid internet slowdown, power cuts-Xinhua

by Dana Halawi

BEIRUT, March 19 (Xinhua) — Ahmed Berro, a Lebanese freelance graphic designer, has all the skills he needs to produce brilliant and creative works but lacks two essential utilities to deliver them: internet and electricity.

Faced with a steep financial crisis, Lebanon has been suffering, for almost two years, from excessive electricity outages given the absence of foreign currency reserves needed to import fuel and operate power stations in the country.

Excessive power cuts, extending to 22 hours a day, cause internet connection to slow down or stop in most households, forcing freelance professionals to resort to coffee shops to get their work done.

“Despite the very cold weather, I visit a coffee shop in the Hamra neighborhood almost every day for at least four to five hours to be able to complete my tasks and deliver my projects on time,” Ahmad told Xinhua.

Ahmad complained that he did not only have to pay for the internet fees in his home which frequently broke down, but also for the beverages he ordered while sitting for hours at the coffee house.

For her part, Razan Mneimneh also visited her favorite coffee shop in Hamra when she was out of electricity and had important work to deliver.

“It has become a ritual for me to come here for around four times a week, otherwise I’d have to juggle between two laptops at home and race against battery burnout to get my work done,” Mneimneh, a researcher working for a foreign NGO, told Xinhua.

Rabih el-Hajj, a marketing specialist at an advertising company, said his company advised employees to work from home to cut the company’s operating expenses even after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

While Ahmad is in favor of the new flexible working model, he said it’s been costly for his pockets to make regular visits to coffee shops.

Most coffee shops in Hamra and Gemmayze, the two most popular spots in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, have turned into co-working spaces offering clients non-stop free internet connection and allowing them to keep their laptop devices charged to meet their jobs’ needs.

Ahmad Hawi, area manager and training specialist at Cafe Younes, a renowned coffee shop in Beirut, told Xinhua that more customers have been visiting on a regular basis since the beginning of the internet and electricity problem in Lebanon.

“People used to pass by our coffee shop to grab some coffee on their way to the office, but more people, namely freelancers, are staying in these days since many of the companies shifted their operations online,” Hawi said.

Hawi said his coffee shop had to raise its prices to be able to cover not only the increased cost of electricity and internet, but also food materials which must be covered in U.S. dollars.

“We pay around 500 U.S. dollars a month for the DSL service and the 4G wireless service to make sure we don’t run out of internet… As for our electricity cost, it increased by more than 15 times in line with the price rise of diesel used to operate our generators around the clock,” Hawi explained.

For Mazen Jradi, partner at B-Hive, a well-known coffee shop in Hamra, business is no longer profitable in light of the excessive power cuts and increase in diesel prices.

The Lebanese cabinet recently approved the long-awaited electricity reform plan to rehabilitate the power sector. Meanwhile, the country has signed agreements to import electricity from Jordan and gas from Egypt to provide citizens with up to eight hours of power supply daily.

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