Economic considerations surround Eid celebration in the Maghreb
Tunis - Muslims in the Maghreb will join fellow followers of Islam across the world to celebrate Eid al-Adha, also called the Feast of Sacrifice. The celebration was created to revive the spirit of sharing and togetherness.
It also marks the end of haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, by slaughtering a sheep or a goat, the meat of which is often shared among family and the poor. The ritual symbolically re-enacts the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his obedience and devotion to God.
Talk about the sheep, their prices and the business built around selling them topped discussions in Maghreb cafés and workplaces ahead of the holiday.
The conversations come as a welcome distraction from other, more difficult issues such as the chaos in Libya, looming austerity in Tunisia, upcoming parliamentary elections in Morocco or political manoeuvrings in Algeria ahead of next year’s legislative polls.
The sheep business is big and diversified. In Morocco it accounts for $1.02 billion in a matter of a few weeks — the equivalent of the combined profits of the country’s banks for three years, according statistics from the government’s High Planning Commission.
Main places and roads, towns and villages across the region become open markets for the estimated 14 million sheep and goats slated for slaughter.
Many view Eid as an opportunity to earn money by selling hay for the animals or other materials needed for preparing the meat. Many more people become one-day butchers to help feed city dwellers during the occasion.
The “temporary workers of the sacrifice” wait in the upscale Souissi district in Rabat, Hydra neighourhood in Algiers or Ennasr in Tunis for customers to pick them up to carry out the ritual slaughter in people’s homes.
But for most poor and middle-class families in the Maghreb, Eid al-Adha and the social pressures to keep up with the neighbours by buying an animal to slaughter add to a trio of burdensome summer expenses. Paying for the seasonal holiday and expenses at the start of the school year the other two.
The Moroccan Agriculture Ministry, in a statement August 4th, said the number of sheep and goats on the market totalled 8.6 million, higher than the estimated demand of 5.35 million. It forecast average price of the animals at $226-$237 and an estimated turnover from the sale of sheep and goats at $1.02 billion.
The Stock Breeders Association in Algeria said 26 million sheep and goats were on the market with sheep going for $229-$458.
Mohamed Moussouni, a specialist in breeding at Algeria’s National Institute of Agronomics, said the relatively affordable prices came as breeders feared that the drought in the country was making it costlier to keep sheep on farms.
“For average families, the sacrifice is an additional burden as around half of the budget goes for food in ordinary periods. Rising inflation and expenses for children heading back to schools stretch further financial possibilities to the limits,” he said.
Algerian analyst Mustapha Hamouche said: “The whole country is talking about the Eid’s mutton. Only the issue of the prices of the animal is talked over, not the question of whether it is a must to observe the sacrifice by slaughtering a sheep or a goat.
“The average faithful citizens constitute an advantage for the government. They are predictable in their aspirations and needs even if that benefits wheeler-dealers.”
In Tunisia, the country’s imams’ association clashed with the Agriculture Ministry and farmers’ groups when the association urged Dar al-Iftaa — the Islamic edicts body — to temporarily ban the sacrifice because of the spread of a disease among livestock.
The ministry and the National Union of Farmers dismissed the claims as “unfounded”, arguing that the imams have no veterinary expertise to address the issue.
The ministry said about 900,000 sheep and goats are on the market, enough for weak demand with average price of $136-$227 a sheep.
Moroccan writer Rachid Labied was among the few in the region who openly expressed his feelings about the pain the animals might experience while being slaughtered. He urged the faithful to ponder modern methods to ease that suffering.