Arab regimes' fears focus on Ramadan

AFP , Sunday 31 Jul 2011

Arab governments are bracing for increased tensions during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan which this year comes amid a wave of unprecedented uprisings sweeping the region

The holy month of Ramadan in Syria

"Throughout history, Ramadan has been the month of revolutions and victory," said Abdullah al-Amadi, director of the Qatar-based Islamic website Islamonline. "I think it will inspire the youths of the Arab Spring to complete their struggles against injustice and tyranny," he said.

Amadi said an escalation in the Arab struggle for democracy could come in the final 10 days of Ramadan, believed to be the holiest of the month which this year begins at the start of August.

The authorities in Syria fear the daily "Taraweeh" nightly prayers during Ramadan threaten to transform every day into Fridays, when people leave mosques after the weekly prayers and protest in their thousands in the streets.

Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force of the protest movement wrote: "The regime is afraid of Ramadan and the Taraweeh prayers," amid calls by Syrian cyber activists for protests every night until dawn.

In Libya, rebels locked for months in deadly battles with strongman Muamer Gaddafi's regime are determined to continue their struggle despite abstaining from food and drink during daylight in the scorching heat of August.

"If it's war and we're tired, we'll eat. But if we remain in a defensive position, we will fast. God is with us," said Hatem al-Jadi, a 24-year-old fighter in the western desert hamlet of Gualish, south of Tripoli.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, where anti-regime protests erupted in January, is in Saudi Arabia after being wounded in an explosion but his regime still grips the reins of power as rifts ripple through the ranks of his opponents.

But protesters camped out at a square in the Yemeni capital Sanaa since February say they are determined to revive their movement during Ramadan. "This will be the month of change, especially since Ali Abdullah Saleh is not in Yemen," said Walid al-Omari, an activist from Yemen's "Youth Revolution" group.

Saleh was wounded in the blast at his palace compound on June 3, and was flown the next day for treatment in Riyadh where he is still convalescing.

Highlighting divisions among opposition members, a group of protesters on July 16 announced the creation of a 17-member "presidential council" to run Yemen if Saleh quits, a move that was not been well-received by other sections of the opposition.

Other Arab governments are adopting a "better safe than sorry" stance, making sure they closely monitor the prices of goods in Ramadan, which usually soar during the month, in order to keep their people happy.

In Egypt, where tensions are mounting between the military and activists demanding reforms, the government has taken measures to maintain its costly subsidy system that keeps very low prices for basic foodstuffs such as bread.

In OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, which has remained steadfast against the wave of pro-democracy protests rocking the region, the ministry of commerce has forced dairy producers to reconsider their decision to increase prices.

The government has also decided to consider cutting the prices of imported barley to prevent an increase in meat prices.

And in neighbouring oil-rich United Arab Emirates the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, has ordered that rice be subsidised across the country during Ramadan.

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