Politicizing the holy month of Ramadan

This year, Ramadan in Egypt has a political flavor. Photo: Egypt Ramadan (AP)

CAIRO, August 10, 2013 — On August 8, 2013 Egypt and most of the Islamic world celebrated the end of Ramadan. This year in Egypt, the fasting month witnessed turmoil, deep political polarization and the failure of any national reconciliation.

Ramadan in Egypt coincided this year with the second wave of the revolution which featured mass street protests, ultimately prompting the army to remove President Morsi.  

SEE RELATED: Egypt from Nasser to El Sissi: Coup or revolution?

Instead of the peaceful prayers and increased devotion and worship which are the purposes of the holy month, people gathered in different squares across the country to display their political preferences, either for or against the government.

The aim of fasting is to cleanse the soul by freeing it from all sins. People are supposed to spend their days in prayers or doing deeds of charity to gain the utmost heavenly reward.

This year in Egypt, this is not the case.  Instead of the peaceful prayers in mosques and spiritual reflection in order to magnify Allah for guiding them, rallies and demonstrations took place in the evening immediately after the night prayers. Obviously, Egypt is stepping towards a new phase of  its modern history hence it seems normal that demonstrators take their early evening meal, Iftar, in the main squares, especially Tahrir square or at Raba Al Adaweiha, where the sit-in of Morsi’s supporters had paralyzed the traffic of one of the suburbs of Cairo.

Iftar banquets have taken place in Egypt since Cairo was established in 996 A.D and coincide with the month of Ramadan when the Fatimid Caliph Al Moez Le Dinnallah came to Egypt for the first time. He was greeted by the Egyptians carrying lanterns and they shared the Iftar in the streets of the Medieval Cairo. Because of this, the lantern became the symbol of Ramadan.

Iftar banquets are part of the charity expected in Ramadan, yet even these banquets have become political. A great majority of the poor are attracted to banquets which are organized by the opponents or the supporters of the deposed President Morsi. The banquets served in the squares embody the competition between conflicting political powers in Egypt. The banquets are provided by supporters of Morsi centralized in Nasr City at Rabah El Adaweiha’s sit –in or the opponents of Morsi in Tahrir square.   

The Iftar meal consists mainly of water, milk, juices, dates, salads and appetizers. Poultry and meat are a treat. Desserts are very important during Iftat. Some of these desserts are made only in Ramadan like Konafa- honied shredded wheat- or Baklava. After the meal and the prayers, people start their rallies in different squares and end their demonstrations before dawn where they start fasting for almost 16 hours.

The average Egyptian believes that despite the political taint, the banquets are positive. They provide the poor with a delicious meal for a whole month, even if it is flavored with politics.

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Anwaar Abdalla

Anwaar Abadallah Khalik Ibrahim has her Ph.D. from Ain Shams University (1999, first degree honour) and currently lectures on Civilization and Cultural Affairs for Helwan University.  Dr. Abdalla Kahlik Ibrahim also works as an official coordinator for the cultural exchange program between Helwan Uni and TSU in the USA entitled “Cultural Immersion 2011-2014.”

Additionally, Ms. Abdallah is a member of the Egyptian and Arab women’s writer’s union and the Cairo Women Association.  She is also the translator of several books published by the Ministry of Culture including Shadows on the Grass, Impossible Peace and The Secret Rapture. Dr. Ibrahim is also an accomplished author and essayist in both Arabic and English publications. 


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