In Arab world, Eid al-Fitr comes with a mix of economic and political concerns

No price hike could beat the cheerful spirit of the occasion for millions of Egyptians.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Egyptians look up as balloons are released from the roof of a mosque on Eid al-Fitr. (AFP)
Much-anticipated celebration. Egyptians look up as balloons are released from the roof of a mosque on Eid al-Fitr. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Eid al-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, is a much-anticipated celebration in the Muslim world but, in some Arab countries, economic, security and political instability shrouded the joyful occasion.

Unprecedented hikes in prices, a tax crisis and a government reshuffle after massive protests tarnished the spirit of the Eid in Jordan.

“We have suffered a lot these past months to make ends meet. Insecurity and uncertainty about what is going to happen the next day clouded our joy and longing for a relaxed Eid al-Fitr. We can only wish for the best and try to enjoy it as much as we can,” said housewife Ibtisam Nofal, 40.

Gone are the days when people would simply spend money to bring joy to their families during the Eid, Nofal said. “One kilo of Maamoul today costs $20-30 while in the past it was $10,” she pointed out.

Stuffed with date paste or chopped walnuts or pistachios and dusted with powdered sugar, Maamoul and Kahk, another traditional pastry, are a must during the Eid.

“The Eid is a family-oriented series of events during which people visit each other and celebrate among themselves. Children wait for their gifts or money and they usually enjoy going out but this year we don’t feel the urge to celebrate as before. The cost of living has become so high forcing many to cut on almost everything,” Nofal said.

Scenes of empty commerce and shopping malls were obvious around Amman, an unusual sight during the last days of Ramadan.

In Iraq, volatile security and the controversy over election results didn’t lessen the Eid spirit of Saja Mahmoud, who bought her three children new clothes for the occasion.

“It is the Eid despite everything,” she said. “We want to enjoy the feast, which we look forward to impatiently. It is enough for me to see the smile on the face of my kids and other children while enjoying the outings and the break in daily routine.”

“I don’t see any justification or reason for not celebrating the Eid properly… Life is too short and we have to live it fully with all its pros and cons,” she added.

Candy seller Asaad Jabbar said he was overwhelmed with buyers as people prepared to celebrate the feast. “The days preceding the Eid are extremely busy,” he said. “Families tend to buy their needs before the roads get blocked with traffic jams on Eid day. You cannot imagine the volume of sales. They all want sweets and in large quantities for Eid.”

Improving security and relative political stability conferred a relaxed and merry atmosphere in Egypt, where the joy of the Eid mixed with excitement over the national team’s participation in the FIFA World Cup.

Eid al-Fitr in Egypt is a special occasion celebrated with traditional cuisine, family visits and outings. For Egyptians, salted fish is a must during the feast. The centuries-old tradition has been maintained by the poor and the rich alike.

Bakeries and sweets shops paraded huge amounts of Kahk but the prices were exceptionally high, dampening the occasion for poor and middle-class Egyptians.

“The prices are almost double of those of last year,” said Abdel A’al, 60. “It doesn’t hurt if my children and I don’t eat Kahk this year.”

Nonetheless, no price hike could beat the cheerful spirit of the occasion for millions of Egyptians who planned visits to public parks, cinema and theatre outings and cheering relatives and friends.

Authorities previewed special measures to secure feast celebrations, including the deployment of policemen outside cinemas, inside parks and in popular promenades along the Nile banks.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Central Bank anticipated the long Eid holiday by instructing banks to ensure that their ATMs were stocked with cash.

Entertainment, events and promotions were lined up at venues and shopping malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and concerts by Arab and foreign stars and activities for the whole family were on the agenda.

A citywide shopping experience was announced in Abu Dhabi with discounts of up to 90% in 14 malls for 24 hours non-stop to mark the first day of the Eid.

For Khalfan al-Muhairbi, a 22-year-old Emirati finance professional, the Eid holds a special place in his heart and has deep cultural significance.

“On the day itself, we all wake up early and change into our new Eid clothes and head to the mosque for Eid prayer,” he said. “Ramadan and Eid are both very family and community orientated times for us and nothing embodies this more than the large communal gatherings that take place at the same time across the region as everyone congregates for Eid prayers.”

“We then spend time in our (Majlis) greeting our relatives who come to see us, spending time with our extended family, handing out money to young children — this is normally how we spend most of the day,” he added.

Coinciding with Fete de la Musique marking the summer solstice, Eid al-Fitr was busy with festivities in Lebanon. After fasting for a whole month and spending much time in prayer and contemplation, people were looking forward to treats and entertainment.

It is a public holiday and an occasion to revel for Lebanese Muslims and Christians alike. Many use the holiday to travel, taking advantage of attractive packages to nearby destinations.