Ramadan banquet rules leave Egypt’s poor high and dry

'Price hikes have affected the ability of the rich to offer free food to the poor.' Rashad Abdo, director of the Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies

Ramadan tradition. Egyptians break their fast at a charity banquet in Cairo. (Saeed Shahat)


2017/06/04 Issue: 109 Page: 20


The Arab Weekly
Ahmed Megahid



Cairo - Egypt’s rich have long funded iftar meals for the poor during Ramadan but rising food prices follow­ing a currency flotation and new bureaucratic rules are rad­ically reducing the number of free iftar banquets.

“Food prices have risen almost threefold, which is why many of those who had the banquets in the past do not do the same this year,” said Rashad Abdo, director of the Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies think-tank.

Hundreds of thousands of free if­tar meals have been offered during Ramadan in recent years. This year, however, economists said there are fewer free banquets even as the poor are more in need.

Inflation hit a 30-year high in April following a November 2016 decision to float Egypt’s currency in line with International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands ahead of al­lowing Cairo a $12 billion loan.

There used to be free iftar ban­quets in almost every neighbour­hood. Poor families would race to reserve places ahead of the sunset call to prayer, which signalled the end of the day’s fasting.

Businessman Ibrahim Hashem said many poor people from the lo­cal community would attend.

“They are the doormen working here in the neighbourhood, poor market workers and motorists who cannot go home for their iftar,” Hashem said.

It cost Hashem $9,500 to host a banquet for 250 people during Ramadan last year. This year, he calculated it would be closer to $30,000 because of price increases.

He decided to continue the Ramadan tradition but had to en­list friends and family members to contribute money.

“Otherwise, I would not have it because I simply cannot pay all this amount of money,” Hashem said.

Other businessmen and commu­nity leaders who usually hosted iftar banquets could not meet the cost. The Economic Research Fo­rum estimated there may be only half as many charity banquets this year.

“The price hikes have affected the ability of the rich to offer free food to the poor,” Abdo said. “This is so bad, given rising poverty.”

Egypt’s poverty rate has risen to almost one-third of the population of 92 million and the government’s economic reforms are expected to increase short-term poverty.

Making things even harder are new rules by the authorities gov­erning charity work, even the host­ing of free iftar banquets.

The rules include requiring ban­quet organisers to get licences from local municipalities, ensure that the banquets are far from main roads, public buildings and schools, get approval from the civil defence to ensure that banquet guests will be safe and organise cleaning up after the banquet is over. Banquet organisers must also accept government supervision on food offered to guests.

“I have given instructions for speeding up licensing for those who apply,” Local Development Minister Hesham al-Sharif said.

The rules, however, have scared many of the usual banquet organ­isers away from having banquets.

“I know people who had can­celled the idea of having the ban­quets because of these rules,” Hashem said. “The authorities want to ensure that nobody will have the banquets. This has noth­ing to do with traffic or safety.”

Responding to the criticism, al-Sharif warned that the holding mass iftar banquets cause a surge in demand for food, which raises the price of food during Ramadan.

“Those organising the banquets buy huge amounts of food but this affects supply and consequently food prices,” Hashem said.


Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved