A shopping complex that solves all phone and technology-related problems at a fraction of the real cost.
Makram is the first to get to work at the mobile phone repair and sales shop at ‘7 Gallery’ center in Avenue de Paris in downtown Tunis. The center is known for selling all kinds of software, videos, films, and mobile phones at very low prices.
After having his morning coffee, Makram opens his shop while burning incense and listening to a recorded recitation of the Koran. “This is a tradition we inherited from our ancestors to invoke blessings and attract customers,” says Makram.
The monthly rent for a 20-square-meter shop like Makram’s runs for USD 1500. Makram and four others work in the shop, in different specialties: repairing phones and computers, selling mobile phones and unlocking phone codes, or selling and downloading original or pirated software.
Shop employees earn daily wages, which according to Makram, depends on the type of work they do, the amount of experience they have, and their seniority. Some earn USD 8 a day, while others earn more.
Makram, the sole breadwinner of a five-member family, says that these wages, no matter how much, do not reflect the extent of daily toil in this shop. But it is his only chance at income, even if it can hardly cover their daily needs.
Makram started working in this shop by accident more than ten years ago. He developed his professional skills and became an expert in modern technology without any academic background. It was the same coincidence that brought Makram’s colleague Karim, a father of four, to this shop eight years ago.
On the display shelves, there are many valuable electronic items, most of which are pirated versions imported from China.
Specialized in downloading and copying of software, games, and films, Karim did not choose this job in the beginning; but thanks to his passion and interest in technology and the internet, he could master its secrets and deal with the new and modern trends. He knows that what he’s doing is illegal, but he has no other alternative.
Tunisian law prevents any person from transferring, publishing, or copying any proprietary data in any form, formula, or method that may prejudice the owner’s financial or IP rights.
The national chamber of mobile phones and digital believes that the center has turned into a monopoly of smartphone repair and sale of fake software.The sale of unlicensed phones, according to the chamber, costs the state annual losses estimated at TND 106 million (USD 45 million).
Despite the trouble caused to his eyes as a result of prolonged viewing of the computer screen, Karim sits up for long hours to download and copy dozens of CDs every day, heedless of the illegality and accountability for this practice.
Internet is the prime source for getting software, films, games, and songs, Karim explains. The downloading process from the Internet takes a long time and requires someone to do the job on a daily basis, especially when there is a new product.
A diverse range of services
A compact disc containing pirated software usually costs one US dollar, while original items are sold at exorbitant prices, according to Karim who adds that “customers rarely ask for original copies due to their unaffordable prices.”
When asked about ‘7 Gallery’, frequented by many customers who seek to unlock the codes of stolen mobiles and buy pirated software, Kamal, one of the shop owners, says this space is very much like ‘Ali Baba’s Cave’.
In this two-story building, more than fifty shops open their doors every day–including Sundays and holidays–from 9 am until 8 pm.
Kamal says these shops offer all kinds of smartphones and tablet services, as well as thousands of pirated CDs of the latest movies and sophisticated computer games, at highly competitive prices. They sometimes sell mobile phones from unknown sources, purchased from other customers, or imported from abroad, including original, copied, and coded products.
Despite the bustling inside the complex, shop owners often complain about declining profits, although they are not subject to any kind of control and do not pay taxes, like other formal businesses.
Due to the large number of competing shops, some shop owners left the complex in search of less competitive areas.