Holy month’s preparations in Arab countries dwarfed by economic slowdown
Beirut - The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is an eagerly awaited time of the year in the Arab world. However, the Ramadan spirit of joy, tolerance and contemplation has been overshadowed in recent years by violence, threats of terrorism and economic and financial crises crippling many countries in the region.
In Lebanon, people had been preoccupied with the general elections, which took place May 6, almost forgetting that Ramadan is at the doorstep. Shy Ramadan decorations replaced the posters and slogans of candidates that had littered the streets of Beirut for months.
Despite the frustration of having lost their majority in parliament, the joy of Ramadan’s advent won’t be dimmed for Sunni Muslims.
“This has nothing to do with the elections. On the contrary, we can’t wait for Ramadan to start. We have been preparing for the fasting despite the frustrations. People are happy that Ramadan is coming,” said Ibtissam Jalloul, a supporter of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.
“We are also looking forward to conducting taraweeh (Ramadan prayers) and we will pray for our country and our leaders,” Jalloul added.
Increases in taxes of main commodities, including electricity and fuel, eclipsed usually joyful Ramadan preparations of many Jordanians, although there were signs of celebrations in the country, one of the most affected by the Syrian crisis.
Shops and Ramadan tents erected specially for late-night fetes were adorned with Islamic-themed decorations such as colourful and glittering crescents, lights and traditional lanterns. Restaurants promoted special Ramadan menus, offering free delivery during the fasting month.
People are mostly worried about the expenses that come with Ramadan, when prices of many commodities soar, forcing low-income families to scratch some traditional food items from their shopping list.
“Ramadan is a month of getting together and enjoying family time and at the same time thinking of those who are less fortunate. We consider ourselves part of the middle class and we are already worried about the cost so you can imagine how poor people feel,” said Omar Saloo, 28, a private sector employee.
During Ramadan, iftar meals to break the day-long fast are offered to the public at Mawaid al-Rahman, or charity iftars, organised by some companies.
“It is a way to support the poor and feel with them. These places are becoming increasingly crowded, which means poverty is becoming wider and wider,” Saloo said.
The frenzy of gearing up for Ramadan in Egypt was mixed with that of the national team’s participation in the FIFA World Cup, led by Mohamed Salah. Traditional Ramadan lanterns decorating shops and streets bear the Liverpool FC player’s face on them. Print shops are reportedly doing very well by making Salah lanterns and decorations.
Preparations for Ramadan started early in Egypt. In the markets, Ramadan goodies, including nuts, dried fruits and dates, were displayed in huge amounts, screaming for the attention of passers-by and promulgating the approach of a month unmatched in its spirituality.
High commodity prices
However, the merriment was dampened by high commodity prices. Fatma Abdelhafez, a housewife, decided to drop nuts from her list of to-buy things for Ramadan iftars.
“They are very expensive,” she said. “The prices of walnuts, cashews and almonds are almost double the price of last year.”
The hike in prices also affected traders, who complained of the lack of activity.
“Nobody is buying anything. People come, look at the prices and then leave,” said Ahmed Ismail, a seller at the crowded Attaba market in Cairo.
Egypt’s TV channels offer a variety of TV dramas, prank and talk shows. TV is always busy during Ramadan with programmes that often stir up controversy and lead to social debates.
Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates, which coincides with the conclusion of the “The Year of Giving,” marking the birth centenary of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nayhan, the country’s founding father, is a time the public and private sectors extend various forms of assistance to the needy.
The Community Development Authority (CDA) is turning to modern technology to help distribute some of the 32,000 meals throughout the month in Dubai and Umm al-Quwain. At least 10% of the meals will be delivered by drones, which will be piloted by three volunteers from CDA’s Youth Council.
Free meals are provided throughout the UAE at mosques, Ramadan tents, social centres, worker camps and other institutions with contributions generously pouring in from philanthropists, companies and individuals from all walks of life.
Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque provides a venue where thousands of free iftar meals are provided every day by a taskforce of more than 550 volunteers from public and private bodies.
As the retail sector plays a prominent role in gearing up for the season, major cooperatives in the UAE sought to ease consumers’ burden by introducing Ramadan promotions and reductions on hundreds of products essential to the iftar table.