Trade is by far the most important sector of the Lebanese economy. Before the 1975–91 civil war, Beirut was an important commercial center of the Middle East. During the first year of civil violence alone, 3,600 commercial establishments were destroyed, burned, or looted. Reconstruction and returning confidence have improved commercial activities since 1995.
The main trading activity is related to the importation of goods and their distribution in the local market. Distribution is generally handled by traders who acquire sole right of import and sale of specific trademarks, and although competition is keen, the markup tends to be high. Distribution of local products is more widely spread among traders. Franchising has become popular with major firms representing the restaurant, hotel, and clothing industries.
Prices are generally controlled by the Consumer Protection Department of the Ministry of Economy and Trade. Retail credit is common, and advertising has developed rapidly in motion picture theaters and the press.
Government offices are generally open from 8 AM to 2 PM Monday through Thursday, and from 8 AM to 12:30 PM on Friday. Most banks are open with similar hours, occasionally with a half-day on Saturday as well. Private businesses and shops have varying hours, sometimes exceeded in a 40-hour workweek.