Millions of Egyptians are bracing this year for an unprecedented Eid Al-Adha, one of the two major annual Islamic feasts.
The ritual holiday, marked by the traditional sacrifice of livestock, is jeopardised this year by the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and fears of a resurgent outbreak.
During Eid Al-Adha, which falls on 31 July this year, Muslims slaughter cows, sheep or goats for family meals and to donate to the poor. The ritual marks the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismael, on God's command.
This year, the tradition of ritual sacrifice will likely be curtailed as the pandemic and its economic repercussions continue to lower demand.
Traders say that the market is seeing an unprecedented recession due to weakened purchasing power by consumers.
This season’s prices are slightly down from the last Eid Al-Adha, yet demand continues to diminish due to the effect of the pandemic.
Mohamed Wahba, head of the Butchers Division at the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI), said in press statements that many citizens have delayed or chosen not to make purchases of sacrificial animals due to the virus.
He said that demand has decreased despite a drop in prices ranging from 7 to 10 percent this year.
For many, sacrificing a sheep or a cow may no longer be an option due to both harsh economic conditions and a fear of infection.
This season, prices range from EGP 55 to EGP 58 for one kilogram of live cattle, which weigh an average of 300 kgs, bringing the total price of the animal to between EGP 16,500 and EGP 17,400.
The prices of live sheep are estimated at EGP 3,000 to EGP 5,000, depending on the animal’s weight and type. This price does not include the slaughtering fees paid to butchers, which are estimated this season at EGP 400 for sheep and EGP 2,000 for calves.
Wahba believes that the low demand is causing fears over the future of the country’s livestock industry, especially if breeders are pushed to sell at even lower prices after Eid.
Egyptians mainly sacrifice cows, sheep or goats in groups, dividing payments to help overcome the dire financial conditions caused by IMF-backed austerity measures.
However, the risk of infection has aggravated worries over the tradition, which is also threatened by tough economic conditions arising from the virus’ toll on vital sectors in the country.
This has led many to resort to other options to practice the Islamic ritual while avoiding infection, including sacrifice vouchers, or sukuk, purchased from leading charity organisations in the country.
Through the sacrifice vouchers, charities are authorised to buy, slaughter and distribute sacrificed cattle to thousands of needy people.
The Egyptian Food Bank, the first to establish the sacrifice voucher in Egypt in 2006, has set the price of vouchers this year at EGP 3,300 and EGP 1,900 for local and imported calves from India and Brazil respectively.
The prices for local sacrifices are higher than the EGP 3,000 set last year, and imported vouchers are slightly down from EGP 1,950.
Charity organisations have given conflicting reports over whether demand for sacrifice vouchers has fluctuated this year.
Sources at the Egyptian Food Bank told Ahram Online that there is no increase in demand on vouchers due to the harsh economic conditions caused by the virus.
They say that those who purchase sacrifice vouchers generally do so to save time and avoid the hassle of slaughtering. This year, however, there are also concerns over infections potentially resulting from the crowding that takes place during the slaughtering process.
The charity organisation is relying on calves this season in their sacrifice program, which previously included other livestock including sheep, to ensure more meat is distributed and less food is wasted amid the pandemic crisis. They are targeting around 1 million families nationwide through partner organisations collaborating with the bank.
On the other hand, Mamdouh Shaaban, director-general of Orman Charity Association, told Ahram Online that there is an estimated 30 to 40 percent rise in demand for sacrifice vouchers this season compared to last year.
“People are abstaining from slaughtering at home due to the pandemic,” he said, adding that this year’s rise in demand for vouchers comes as more donors are keen to have their sacrifices delivered to the neediest amid the crisis.
Orman is offering local calf sacrifices this year at EGP 3,100, with imported animals ranging from EGP 1,950 to EGP 2,550 depending on size. They are targeting 750,000 families as beneficiaries nationwide.
Several Egyptians told Ahram Online that they have been relying on sacrifice vouchers in recent years to avoid the “exhausting and troublesome” slaughtering process.
This year, however, the program is seeing new donors due to the virus.
Mohamed El-Sayed, a pharmacist based in the Arabian Gulf, told Ahram Online that he has asked his sister to use sacrifice vouchers this season given the risk posed by the coronavirus.
“We couldn’t travel to our hometown this year due to the pandemic, so we preferred to resort to charity organisations to ensure that the sacrifices are met,” he said, describing the process as cheaper and hassle-free.
He added, however, that he believes that sacrifice vouchers are no substitute for traditional sacrificing practices during Eid Al-Adha.
Others believe that the ritual should not be abandoned this year despite the pandemic.
Youssef Amr told Ahram Online that he prefers to observe the Eid Al-Adha traditions to ensure “that they don’t disappear over time.”
“I have personally thought of abandoning sacrifices this year due to the pandemic; however, I felt that I can still protect myself from infection and not abandon the ritual,” Amr said, adding that the fears felt by many people are “justifiable.”
Amr is taking more precautions this year, saying he will oversee the sacrificing process while wearing a mask, using alcohol sprays, and maintaining social distance.
“Since I was a child, we have been accustomed to delivering sacrifices to certain families every Eid. I can’t keep them waiting this year,” he said.
* 1 USD = EGP 15.97 according to the exchange rate of the Central Bank of Egypt on Wednesday.