Egypt’s charity iftar banquets in high demand

Ramadan meals for those in need are back after Covid hiatus

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Egypt’s charity iftar banquets are back in full force after three years of being either banned or limited due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Known as mawa’ed el Rahman ("banquets of God the merciful" in Arabic), the free meals are served in Ramadan tents, on busy streets and side alleys — and even under bridges.

They are in demand more than ever this Ramadan, as Egypt’s population of 104 million suffers from rising food prices and record inflation amid the economic fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war.

A popular banquet this year is one sponsored by the Egyptian star Sherihan — the singing, acting and dancing sensation best known for her Fawazeer Ramadan (Riddles of Ramadan) TV show in the 1980s.

The tent decorated with twinkling golden lights is outside the Aquarium Park in the affluent island district of Zamalek.

It has been a fixture of Ramadan for 40 years, except for the past three. For the first time, a restaurant is doing the catering instead of a hired cook.

“This year there is more demand,” says Karim Mustafa, the volunteer manager. "People start coming at 2pm and stay until iftar time [approximately 6.15pm]. We’ve become friends.

“Starting from 3pm or 3.30pm, we stop accepting newcomers. There are no more places.”

People pass the time reading the Quran, praying or socialising.

Each meal, made by Karam El Sham restaurant, includes half a chicken or beef kebab, basmati rice, potatoes and salad. Bottled water and a juice box are also included, while the dessert is rice pudding.

It is considered particularly generous, especially as many Egyptians can no longer afford chicken and meat with annual inflation at its highest level in six years.

Amr Ali, a 52-year-old driver, says he has come several times with his wife and children.

“It’s a meal that would normally cost more than 200 pounds ($6.50),” he says. "People don’t have enough money to buy chicken and cook it at home."

People come from nearby towns, such as Imbaba and El Warraq, north of Zamalek.

“They spend 40 pounds ($1.30) on transport, they eat and drink and are happy and they even get to take the leftovers back home to have for suhoor,” Mr Ali says.

Other banquets may not be as fancy or serve as much meat, but they are also full to the brim at iftar time.

At Bab El Louq in downtown Cairo, families and friends cram into the plastic chairs and tables set up along the busy road.

“The people who go are not beggars,” Mr Ali says. "The rise in prices has led to people going out to eat in the streets."

Updated: April 13, 2023, 2:21 PM