Changing lives in Ramadan
Egyptian lifestyles in Ramadan have been different this year, for various and sometimes surprising reasons, writes Riham Adel
Click to view caption|
The demand for Ramadan tents' treats this year is less than before 25 January Revolution
There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations." These words by prominent US writer Jodi Picoult have proven to be very true. Many people have had poor expectations of life under Islamist rule, thinking that their lifestyles could be negatively affected by it or their freedoms violated. However, changes to the regular way of marking Ramadan may have had other reasons as well.
"My lifestyle at night during Ramadan has changed, and when I ask myself why I think of the overcrowded streets and the miserable attitudes of drivers," says tour guide Ehab Suleiman, 42. Suleiman said that his way of life had changed radically after the 25 January Revolution, and not always for the better. "I have become more nervous and rude. I even sometimes find myself saying bad words while driving. Unfortunately, nowadays being polite and patient means you will never arrive where you want to go," he said.
Suleiman does not want to blame himself for such attitudes, and he points instead to failures in applying the traffic regulations. "Sometimes I hate myself for my bad behaviour, especially when I think how differently I behave when I am travelling abroad," he says. He thinks that the social environment since the revolution has negatively affected his way of life, and traffic is one of the main reasons.
"Going out now depends on two conditions: the place should be very close to home, and I only ever go out on Fridays," he adds.
For Amira Mohamed, a 38-year-old journalist, people have become more aggressive since last year's revolution. "I have almost forgotten how we used to be in the past," she said. "Caring, helpful, sincere and respectable people have become hard to meet." Mohamed was particularly shocked by people's aggressive attitudes on the first working day of Ramadan, as if no one was fasting. She decided to go away for the rest of the month, if only to keep the spirit of the Ramadan she is familiar with.
In addition to the overcrowded streets and bad attitudes, the common complaint of many, others feel that they have been obliged to change the ways they mark Ramadan to cope with rising prices.
"I haven't been to the Ramadan tents since 2007, and I still remember that the cost of Sohour at a five-star Ramadan tent used to be around LE100. Now the cheapest one would cost more than double that," said dentist Ahmed Diaa, 35. When he was single, life was easier, Diaa adds, since he did not have so many financial commitments. Now that he is the father of two children, he finds that he sometimes has to struggle to raise them properly.
"The children are my main priority, especially education, which costs a lot of money," he added.
While some people have stopped going to the Ramadan tents due to financial reasons, inflation and the increasing cost of living, others have started going to caf│ęs because they are much cheaper instead.
"My lifestyle in Ramadan has not been affected by the Islamists. Although I thought they would close the entertainment places when they were in power, that turned out to be an exaggeration by the media," said Mustafa Essawi, a 38-year-old medical engineer in a private-sector company.
Essawi believes that people's lifestyles have been changing over the last few decades for many reasons, not necessarily religious ones. "I think that economic factors have affected all aspects of Egyptian daily life," Essawi said, adding that in his opinion people from the lower and middle classes have been increasingly squeezed by the difficult economic situation.
The poor are getting poorer, and the middle classes are struggling to keep themselves above the level of the poor. "After the Egyptian revolution, wealthy families preferred to gather at home rather than go out and face the chaos and lack of security," he added. Young people and teenagers still want to go out, though caf│ęs may be the only places they can afford.
"I have been disappointed since the revolution, and I have little desire to go out now. When a member of my family does go out, I am worried until he or she is safely back home," said Yasser Khalil, a 48-year-old businessman.
Khalil feels unsafe today, especially since his car was stolen two months ago and his office was attacked by thugs one month later. "There is a danger that Egypt will turn into a land of chaos ruled by thugs. We will all be doomed if the police's status is jeopardised. I even fear that there may come a day when we are afraid of leaving our homes, going to work or meeting friends at all," he added.
There are other people who feel as insecure as Khalil, often because of financial problems. Such people may have lost their jobs and be living on their savings. These people have also been obliged to alter their lifestyles, among them Riham Mahmoud, a stewardess at EgyptAir.
Mahmoud's husband, who works as a pilot at EgyptAir, has warned her and the children about going out without him at night since the revolution. "If I have to go out by myself or with the kids, I go back home by eight at the latest," she said. As a result, her life has been turned upside down. "My husband also doesn't allow us to stay at home when he is abroad," she added. "Instability has become a kind of watchword."
The only people who may not have changed their lifestyles are pious ones, considering Ramadan to be an opportunity to get closer to God, be released from worries and absolved of sins. "The blessings of Ramadan are endless. The holy month should be considered as an opportunity not to be wasted," said 36-year-old Hala Rashad, a media consultant at the Ministry of Electricity.
"The internal peace I feel during Ramadan is incomparable, and by the end of the month I feel I could have been more devoted to worship and charity work," she said. Rashad has had only one bad experience, as she calls it, when her family was invited to one of the famous Ramadan tents. "I was shocked and felt as if I were on the beach or watching a show. That was my first and last visit to such places," she said.
While morality has become a major issue in Egyptian public life, with the new president, former head of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party, stressing its importance in public affairs, unfortunately morality may not always be a strong presence in people's daily lives. Indeed, many people may have been obliged to change their lifestyles due to a lack of morality as far as behaviour is concerned, as well as fears about the absence of security.
All those interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly said that the real essence of Islam is more about ethics and morality than about worship, and that Islam places a very high value on good manners and forgiveness.