Egypt's economic crunch of the Eid
Safeya Mounir, , Monday 12 Aug 2019

Many families in Egypt are viewing the Eid Al-Adha, commencing on 11 August, with joy but also worries. It is difficult for many families to commit to the traditions associated with the Islamic holiday that include buying new clothes for the children and cooking rich meals because of the economic crunch that has been taking its toll on the majority of Egyptians.

Making things no better is the timing of the Eid, which falls in the summer school holidays, since families often allocate a portion of their savings for the entertainment of their children during the holidays a month before the advent of the new school year and all that this can cost.

For Manar Ahmed, a Cairo housewife, her husband can no longer afford to sacrifice a sheep or a cow — as per Islamic tradition — because of the rising cost of living. Noha, also a Cairo housewife, said her husband was better off and had participated with his relatives in buying livestock to slaughter on the morning of the first day of the Eid.

“Two years ago, we used to pay LE4,000 for our share in the Eid livestock. Now we pay LE4,400,” Noha said, adding that her husband was strictly committed to the tradition of sacrificing a beast on the first day of the Eid and that he borrowed the money if he could not afford the whole amount.

This was especially the case, she said, as their children’s school fees now amount to some LE20,000.

The rise in meat prices has forced many families to decrease their consumption, taking it down from 29 per cent of annual spending in 2015 to 27.8 per cent in October 2018, according to the income and expenditure survey conducted by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the government statistics agency, released last week.

Inflation has affected many families after the floatation of the Egyptian pound in November 2016, part of the $12 billion loan agreement Egypt signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Other IMF conditions to approve the loan included subsidy cuts on fuel and imposing a value-added tax (VAT). The latter two factors, together with the depreciation of the local currency, have led to prices skyrocketing.

Charity organisations have been collecting sukuk (Islamic bonds) from Muslims who want to sacrifice an animal on the Eid but cannot afford to do so. The charity system, available in instalments, has been widely welcomed, and Greater Bairam sukuk arranged by charity organisations ranges from LE1,800 to LE3,300.

After slaughtering the sacrificed animal, the charity typically gives the donor a third of the meat and distributes the rest to the poor across Egypt’s governorates.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Ministry of Supply and International Trade is also offering sukuk on livestock at a value of LE1,800 this year, up from LE1,500 last year.

The system is appreciated by the likes of Zeinab Mohamed, who is an elderly woman living in Cairo with no children and cannot afford to buy a beast to sacrifice on the Eid Al-Adha nor distribute its meat on her own.

However, this year Mohamed decided not to resort to a charity organisation after she discovered the group had not earlier kept its promise to distribute the amount of meat it said it would. This year, Mohamed bought a small beast for LE2,200 and will take the trouble of distributing its meat herself.

Housewife Soha Ali said her husband was well off and had kept the tradition of sacrificing livestock on the first day of Eid. Ali’s family had decided to seek their children’s education at local private schools that provide decent education for a quarter of the fees paid at international schools, she said.

“We are lucky in that our house is near the children’s school. We don’t need to pay LE7,000 for the school bus service for each child,” Ali said. She said that they had decided not to spend the Eid vacation at a chain hotel after their prices had hiked, opting instead to put their name on the list of their social club’s holiday programme, which could be paid in instalments.

Noha Samir, a Cairo housewife in her thirties, said that if it were not for the house they owned on a time-share basis, it would not have been possible for her family to afford to vacation for a few days on the North Coast.

Samir pays her two children’s school fees in instalments, with 40 per cent of the total coming due in August. Coinciding with the month that many families usually go on vacation, Samir has come to find it difficult to provide everything her family needs. Last year, she cancelled the school bus, which she says cost each child LE12,000, opting instead to run a private bus along with a group of neighbours.

Manar Ahmed, a housewife in her forties, has also dedicated her family’s resources to providing the money needed for her two sons’ education at an international school. To go on vacation, Ahmed rents a flat together with her friends or relatives.

The CAPMAS survey concluded that Egyptian families dedicate at least 37 per cent of their annual income on food, 9.2 per cent on education (private tutoring takes up the majority), six per cent on transportation, and a mere 2.1 per cent on entertainment.