Egyptians embrace Ramadan spirit despite Covid-19

A festive mood has taken hold in the country before the start of the holy month

epa09125207 Egyptian families buy 'Fanous' (Lantern) decorations for upcoming Ramadan at a market in Cairo, Egypt, 09 April 2021. Muslims are preparing for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan that is expected to start on 13 April 2021 in most countries. Muslims around the world celebrate the holy month with prayers and readings form the Koran as they fast from eating, drinking, smoking, and all sexual relations, from dawn till dusk.  EPA/MOHAMED HOSSAM
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Ramadan starts on Tuesday and Egyptians have wasted no time in getting into the habits of the holy month, despite coronavirus regulations.

Strings of colourful light bulbs have taken over the facades of apartment blocks across Cairo, a sign that the festive spirit of Ramadan has arrived in Egypt.

Those with deep pockets have started giving out alms, while many are deciding which one of the dozens of television series about to be released simultaneously they should watch first.

Ramadan in Egypt has never been only about fasting from dusk to dawn or other religious rituals. For the 100 million people who call the country home, the holy month is a rich and diverse experience.

But it’s also a challenging time for many, with higher food prices and gigantic traffic jams proving difficult for some.

People take a photo of a traditional Ramadan lantern called "fanous" at a shop stall ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Cairo, Egypt, April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Ramadan lanterns on sale in Cairo, where a festive mood has taken hold ahead of the start of the holy month. Reuters

“Fresh peppers have gone up from 20 to 30 pounds a kilogram and green beans are up by five pounds at 15 a kilogram. And that’s just two items,” said Khayriah Ahmed, 70, who lives in central Cairo.

“Red meat is very expensive anyway, so they probably left its price unchanged so as not to put it completely out of everyone’s reach.”

Ms Ahmed, like many matriarchs with a little money to spare, spent thousands of pounds on alms in the run up to Ramadan.

Average household spending already soars because of the cost of laying on lavish iftars, the meal taken at the end of each day during Ramadan to break the fast.

But higher prices did not stop Egyptians from thronging shops across the country as the start of the month approached, snapping up groceries such as fresh fruit and vegetables as well as the desserts that are a staple during the month.

“I drew a list of the people I know in my neighbourhood who deserve a little help,” Ms Ahmed said. Street iftar meals meant to feed the poor are banned this year, to contain the spread of the virus.

With most Egyptians struggling to cope with higher prices for almost everything, from fuel and utility bills to food and transport, acts of compassion such as Ms Ahmed’s alms go a long way to shore up the social fabric of a nation facing formidable challenges.

epa09129692 Men use a rope spanned from one roof to another to install Ramadan decoration during a celebration of the upcoming Ramadan holy month in Cairo, Egypt, 11 April 2021. Muslims around the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan by praying during the night time and abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual acts between sunrise and sunset. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and it is believed that the revelation of the Koran's first verses occurred during its last 10 nights.  EPA/Mohamed Hossam
Men installing a decoration ahead of the beginning of Ramadan. EPA

Unlike last year, Egyptians are not living under lockdown, but some restrictions remain in place as a third wave of Covid-19 grips the nation.

Health Ministry figures showed a sharp rise in daily infections over the past week, with the country now reporting more than 800 new cases of the virus each day.

Due to the widespread lack of testing, the real number of new infections is believed to be as much as 10 times as high as that cited by health authorities.

Ramadan rules this year include a 30-minute cap on the evening taraweeh prayers and a ban on people staying in mosques to pray for the last 10 days of the month.