Economy, terror threat dampen Ramadan spirits in Egypt
CAIRO - The fear of terror attacks and the struggles of the economy in Egypt are darkening the buoyant mood that traditionally greets the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
A few days before Ramadan was set to begin, security personnel foiled a major terrorist attack in the southern province of Luxor, one that could have dealt severe damage to Egypt’s tourist industry, which has been trying to recuperate from the turmoil since the 2011 popular uprising.
Nevertheless, on June 16th a criminal court in Cairo upheld death sentences given several Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including ousted president Muhammad Morsi. They had been found guilty of spying for the Palestinian group Hamas and breaking out of jail in 2011.
The government expects that announcement to draw backlash from the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement from which Morsi hails and that has been accused by authorities of being behind nationwide violence the past two years.
Soon after the court announcement, the Egyptian Interior Ministry raised its terror alert level to the highest status, deploying special combat forces and bomb-disposal experts to protect state institutions.
A militant group rumoured to be behind the June 10th Luxor attack, in which assailants tried to smuggle a bomb into tourist areas, vowed more assaults during Ramadan.
These security challenges are taking a toll on the economy, a downturn especially felt while Egyptians prepare for Ramadan, a time when they traditionally stock up on food and drink.
Egypt’s urban consumer inflation rose 13.5% in May, after being recorded at 11% in April, according to the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. The rate was 11.8% in March.
Abdel-Aziz al-Sayed, the head of the Poultry Section at Egypt’s Chamber of Commerce, said on June 16th that poultry prices in the local market rose 30% due to increased demand.
The faltering economy and the threat of terrorist attacks seem to be leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Egyptians.
“Commodity prices are very high, which at the end gives people a hard time,” Azza Mohamed, a civil servant in her early 50s, said.
Equally unexcited this year about the advent of the holy month is Shady Sayed, an unemployed makeup artist in his 30s.
Usually, Sayed and neighbours in the poor southern Cairo Sayeda Aisha district would mark Ramadan by lining streets with lanterns and glittering ornaments. This year, however, the lights of the lanterns seem to be dim and the ornaments less glittering.
“My fear is that more and more people will be killed in terrorist attacks in this month,” Sayed said. “Let’s pray that nobody will die.”
Egypt’s political rifts also linger. Parties are unable to agree on a unified list of candidates before parliamentary elections, which were supposed to have taken place in the spring but a date for which has not been set, in the authorities’ bid to keep Islamists at bay.