Ramadan has always been associated with festivities of every kind, including special food, drinks, sweets, and colourful ornaments and lights filling the streets. More importantly, it is a month of unity, solidarity, and togetherness in which people strive for goodness, kindness, and giving to others.
However, this year Ramadan comes amidst soaring inflation in Egypt and in many other parts of the world because of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict.
The economy has been undermined by concurrent shocks and high inflation, with figures indicating that the annual urban inflation rate in Egypt was 31.9 per cent in February, the highest the country has seen in six years and since August 2017.
According to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), inflation has reached 40 per cent, impacting a range of products. The devaluation of the pound has meant that local and imported products have gone up in price by between 20 and 60 per cent.
However, these things have not affected celebrations for Ramadan. In the first two days of the holy month, people were seen as usual distributing dates and Iftar plates in the streets in towns and cities across the country. Families sat down together for Iftar meals, and Ramadan tables were set out to serve the poor with delicious meals.
“Many people have given us money to give to the poor this Ramadan. We have been preparing Ramadan bags and filling them with rice, sugar, pasta, beverages, food oil, dates, chicken and meat,” said Sara, the founder of a charitable organisation in Cairo.
“Many people take part in funding, preparing, and serving the bags. Each of us was keen to search for the best products at the most reasonable prices.”
“One of the best things about Ramadan is charity and helping the poor,” Sara said.
Though the prices of many products are soaring, this has helped people in planning what to buy. “We have cut many of the products we used to buy to keep the house running. We have cut out chicken and meat almost entirely and replaced them with sausages and liver,” said Samah Abdel-Sattar, the mother of three.
Abdel-Sattar lives in Abdel-Kader, one of the poorest districts in Alexandria. She and her husband who works as a doorman are battling to feed their three children. “The amount we earn is nothing compared to what we have to pay. Salaries and wages have not risen, whereas prices have gone up by two or three times,” she said.
Abdel-Sattar plans to raise chickens on the roof of the block she lives in. As a girl who was raised in a village, she wants to save money to make her small business a way to face the soaring prices of chicken in Egypt.
“The government should pay heed to cases where the family is poor but not sick. Our family is poor, but it is not eligible for government or non-governmental subsides. But we have become much poorer owing to the recent inflation,” she added.
“Women are the best at running their households. They know what the house needs and what is available on the market. They scan the markets and do their own research until they get the best prices,” Ahmed Moati, CEO of VI Markets, a grocery chain, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said that any successful household should be run by both partners, but when it comes to household needs women are more competent in buying what is necessary.
As for inflation, he said it would likely continue for two main reasons. “As the war is still ongoing between Russia and Ukraine, the prices of some products will sadly continue to rise,” he said. There was also the problem of sometimes greedy traders that had made the problems worse.
Advertising in Ramadan has been tempting many to invest in real estate. “Although investment is risky, especially when there are high rates of interest, Moati encourages people to consider reasonable investment and small and medium-sized enterprises to cut their costs.
“Restaurants might want to spend money on design and furnishing, but fast food restaurants should not,” he said.
Even some middle-class families are having to contend with soaring prices. “We used to look forward to Ramadan as the most beautiful month of the year. We put effort into every single item, like decorating the house, buying household supplies, inviting families and friends to Iftar, and doing charity work,” said 40-year-old Ahmed Gamal.
“These days there have been many occasions to celebrate, including Mother’s Day, Ramadan, Easter (Sham Al-Nessim), and the Eid. It is good to celebrate happy occasions, but it can take a millionaire to pay the expenses,” Gamal said.
He added that many families also have to contend with rising school fees, sports training fees, private tutoring fees, and other bills.
Gamal celebrated Mother’s Day for both his mother and his wife. He managed to celebrate the first day of Ramadan with his big family. He has been saving all year for zakat donations to be given to the deserving.
“We decided not to make unnecessary efforts this year and decided not to buy desserts but to make sure that everything was homemade. A konafa dessert can cost more than LE500 today, whereas you can make a delicious one for only LE100 at home. This is just one of our resolutions to face down soaring prices and extravagant habits,” he added.
“But despite all the odds, Ramadan has its own bright spirit, its colourful sights, its blessings and its kindness to give not only to Muslims but to all humankind,” he concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly