Count your blessings
The aftermath of the revolution may not have dampened the Ramadan spirit, but it has certainly bitten into people's pockets, writes Niveen Wahish
"Take a break from it all and watch the Ramadan soap operas and other programmes," was the advice of one TV anchor to viewers overwhelmed by the avalanche of political news, much of it involving legal appeals on the status of supposedly august institutions like the People's Assembly or the constituent assembly charged with drafting a new constitution.
That Ramadan begins either tomorrow or on Saturday seems to be the only certainty these days. Unless, of course, someone decides to contest even that in court, in which case groups of pro- and anti-demonstrators can take to the streets and spend weeks accusing each other of all manner of treachery.
Not that taking the anchor's advice will grant much of a respite from politics. The plots of many of the scheduled soap operas she recommends are set against the backdrop of the revolution.
Truth be told, there is nowhere you can go to escape politics. Turn to prayer and the chances are you will run into the political sermonising that has become all too common in mosques. Even the Ramadan lantern has a revolutionary version: fanous bearing images of martyrs are on sale.
Take refuge in food and you will find even the dates with which the fast is broken have political overtones. Where once different kinds of dates were named after actresses or football players, now they are branded with the names of politicians and parties. So choose: break your fast with Mursi, Shafik, Omar Suleiman or Hamdeen Sabahi. Break it with the Ikhwan. Or break it with them all.
Ramadan, famously, is about food. In theory families should be spending less. They are eating fewer meals and spending more time contemplating God, after all. But in truth they end up spending more. A great deal more. A 2011 survey conducted by Visa showed that for more than half of Egyptians Ramadan is the most expensive month of the year, and topping the list of purchases is food.
Visit any hypermarket before Ramadan -- at any time of the year, in fact -- and you could reasonably conclude talk of an economic slowdown is nonsense. But as Khaled Dewidar, purchasing manager of Hyper One, points out, these mega markets serve a wealthier clientele.
"Even if they are forced to rationalise their spending," says Dewidar, "food is not going to get cut."
But for a majority of families making ends meet will be more difficult this Ramadan. Official unemployment figures have risen to 13 per cent, up from nine per cent before the revolution. Thousands have lost their jobs in the wake of the slowing economy, lack of security and subsequent business closures.
"I have been jobless for months now, living off savings and help from family," says Mustafa Mohamed, a 30 year-old tourist guide. Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors in Egypt, with arrivals slumping by a third.
Thankfully prices this year are more or less stable. Headline CPI published by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics earlier this month declined by 0.55 per cent month on month (m/m) in June compared to a 0.24 per cent decline in May.
Prices of basic products, including rice, cooking oil and flour, says Dewidar, are stable. Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga said this week that the supply of essential commodities has been increased by 20 per cent in preparation for Ramadan, with much of the extra channelled into government cooperatives.
"The ministry managed to provide an extra LE65 million, through international grants and other agreements, to guarantee the basic needs of citizens," she said.
Minister of Supply Gouda Abdel-Khalek announced that those in possession of ration cards will receive an additional 50 per cent discount on the already subsidised price of basic items such as rice, pasta and cooking oil. Ration cards currently cover 60 million Egyptians.
Others are pitching in, and if their motives are not altogether altruistic -- in distributing food parcels, or else setting up shopping tents where food is sold at a discount, both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood are obviously canvassing for support -- well who's complaining.