Trump’s trade restrictions on Syria impact Austin’s Arabic Bazaar in Hyde Park

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Photo Credit: Elias Huerta

Recent sanctions against Syria from the Trump administration have not only impacted those living in Syria, but a local Austin store owner as well.

Zein Al-Jundi, the owner of the Arabic Bazaar, is originally from Damascus. She moved here in 1985 to attend UT. Her store originally started as a Christmas time pop-up in 1999 at an Arabic music show in Austin. Since she quickly gained popularity and there was demonstrated demand for the Arabic products she was selling, she started subleasing her property on Duval and 51st Street in 2001 and opened full-time.

Since Al-Jundi is from Damascus, the most natural place to continue importing her goods from was Syria.

“When I opened, I had at least half of the store from Syria,” Al-Jundi said. “Right now I have probably 10 percent.”

Al-Jundi explained that, while it has always been difficult, it is now illegal to import goods directly from Syria.

If someone wants goods from Syria, they have to be shipped to another country, like Turkey, and then to the United States. But even that route is not legal. Due to these sanctions, Al-Jundi began shopping for more of her inventory in Turkey, Morocco and Egypt. Her remaining goods from Syria are from old shipments.

However, trade sanctions hurt her business again in a different way in Egypt.

“They put you through absolute hell to get anything (from Egypt),” Al-Jundi said. “I’m restricted to importing through just one guy (in Egypt) who is certified to export things (by the United States government).”

Since he is the only certified agent and has a monopoly on exporting, prices are higher, making it more difficult for Al-Jundi’s business to thrive.

The obstacles do not stop there, however. The government checks shipments multiple times and requires multiple x-ray exams. Sometimes they remove the container from the port and exam it item by item. This makes the process exponentially more expensive, and it takes much longer.

“My last shipment was scheduled to take six weeks,” Al-Jundi said. “It took four months. It’s like vengeance, trying to deter people from doing business with these countries.”

Al-Jundi is not the only business owner from the Middle East whose business has been impacted by trade sanctions or restrictions on movement.

Haithem El-Zabri, the owner of the Palestine Online Store, is another Austin local who imports his goods from the Middle East. Although the trade sanctions do not affect him the same way they have affected Al-Jundi’s business, he has experienced similar roadblocks.

“Getting products from Palestine is sometimes challenging due to the restrictions on movement imposed by the military occupation,” El-Zabri wrote in an email. “Getting the product from the supplier to the post office is usually a challenge when they have to cross multiple military checkpoints, which are often unpredictable and sometimes closed.”

Citrine Ghraowi, a UT alumna from Syria, said luckily, her family’s chocolate business in Corpus Christi was not impacted by the trade sanctions against Syria.

“We didn’t do business with anyone in the Middle East, but more so started over and bought similar products based in the US,” Chraowi said.

Since her family’s business model was not built on importing specific goods from Syria, they were not hit with the same obstacles that Al-Jundi has been facing.

“The only issue was my uncle who is in charge of the chocolate shop in Damascus was on a travel visa,” Ghraowi wrote in a message. “So even though we needed him to manage to chocolate shop here in Texas, he also had to do the same in Syria. Traveling back and forth became difficult and ultimately left us with having to close the store.”