The government and civil society mobilised this week in preparation for Ramadan which is expected to begin on Thursday.
On Friday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi attended a celebration at Cairo International Stadium to launch the Shoulder to Shoulder initiative which will distribute six million food boxes to needy citizens ahead of Ramadan.
The initiative was launched by the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW), an independent gathering of NGOs which promote economic development and implement social support programmes.
NACDW was launched in March 2022 to provide basic health and education services to the most needy communities. The 34-member alliance includes the Decent Life Foundation (DLF), Resala Charity Organisation, Orman Association, and the Egyptian Food Bank.
“The Shoulder to Shoulder initiative comes ahead of the month of Ramadan to show the humanitarian face of Egyptians and their keenness to support each other in times of need,” said President Al-Sisi.
“Ramadan is a month of love, peace, and solidarity… The Shoulder to Shoulder initiative extends a helping hand to millions of needy citizens, turning a time of crisis into one of gifts and human care.”
Expressing the hope that social solidarity initiatives will expand to provide support to families for the coming year, Al-Sisi noted that “the current global economic crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine has led to soaring inflation rates, raised energy and food prices and squeezed the incomes of the vulnerable across the world.”
He described the Shoulder to Shoulder initiative as a success story for NACDW coordination with the private sector and government organisations.
“On the advent of the month of Ramadan, let us pray to God to grant us the power to do more to help vulnerable and needy people in the difficult economic conditions we face,” he said.
On Monday, President Al-Sisi issued a presidential pardon to all debtors held in jails — 40 women and 45 men. He also used the advent of Ramadan and celebrations of Egyptian Women’s Day to announce a raft of decisions supporting women, enshrining their rights in the draft labour law and establishing a family fund to provide financial protection to children of divorced parents.
Meanwhile, the government has inaugurated Ahlan (Welcome) Ramadan supermarkets which sell basic goods at discounted prices. On 14 March, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli inaugurated the main Ahlan Ramadan supermarket expo at East Cairo’s Conference Hall in Nasr City. Madbouli said the expo includes 400 supermarkets in one place selling food goods at discounts of up to 50 per cent.
Madbouli also revealed the cabinet has approved an extension to the working hours of shops, restaurants, malls, and coffee shops until 2am throughout Ramadan. Retail outlets are normally allowed to operate from 7am to 11pm during summer and from 7am to 10pm in winter. Restaurants are normally permitted to open from 5am to 1am in the summer and from 5am to 12am in winter.
This extension comes into effect on 22 March and will remain in place until the end of the Eid Al-Fitr three-day holiday on 23 April. Under the decision, venues can operate home delivery and takeaway services 24 hours a day.
On 17 March, Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi inaugurated the first chain of Ahlan Ramadan supermarkets in Sharqiya governorate. There will be over 550 Ahlan Ramadan supermarkets across Egypt providing basic foodstuffs at lower prices, and plans are afoot to extend the scheme beyond Ramadan.
Moselhi said the outlets will operate in tandem with government-sponsored supermarkets run by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Interior, the army, consumer cooperatives and the so-called We are All One supermarkets to ensure food is available at reasonable prices during and beyond the month of Ramadan.
“These supermarkets sell everything average-income households need, including oils, sugar, rice, flour, lentil, beans, frozen chicken, fish, and meat as well as Ramadan products such as dried apricot, tamarind, raisins, sesame and dates,” said Moselhi.
“Initial figures show LE2 million worth of food goods being bought daily from Ahlan Ramadan supermarkets.”
Moselhi attributed the popularity of Ahlan Ramadan and other government-sponsored supermarkets to the fact that they are present nationwide and offer exceptional value for money. In private supermarkets, a kilo of sugar sells for LE20-25 while in Ahlan Ramadan it is sold for LE 14-18. Ahlan Ramadan sells a one kilo frozen chicken for LE65 while private supermarkets charge between LE120-150.
Moselhi also said the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade has set up a central operation unit to supervise and monitor markets throughout the month of Ramadan.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly