Egyptians defy coronavirus to buy Ramadan supplies

By Francesca Cicardi and Samar Ezzat

Cairo, Apr 22 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of people flocked to the centre of the Egyptian capital Wednesday to buy Ramadan supplies two days before the start of the Islamic holy month that will have no public or religious acts due to measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Most people are not wearing masks or taking any preventive measures. They are just focused on sourcing typical products like dates, sweets and spices of the fasting month that is set to begin Friday (depending on the sighting of the new moon).

Observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk during Ramadan.

In central Cairo, women and men stand in two separate lines to buy pastries to prepare traditional Ramadan desserts such as kunafa, katayef, and sambusak, handled by the seller without gloves.

Azza, a married middle-aged woman with three children, is the only one waiting for her turn wearing a face mask to buy her stock of dough for the first few days of Ramadan.

“It is not as crowded here as Boulaq or al-Sayeda Zeinab,” says Azza, referring to the populous neighbourhoods of Cairo, the city that never sleeps but whose streets have recently lost their buzz due to the Covid-19.

The Egyptian government declared a partial curfew almost a month ago, which runs from 8 pm to 6 am, with the closure of restaurants, and entertainment venues, as well as sports facilities and shopping centres.

But most importantly, mass prayers in mosques and all group religious activities related to Ramadan were suspended, with the endorsement of al-Azhar, the most prestigious Islamic learning institution in the Sunni Muslim world.

Iman, a young mother of two children, takes shelter at the doors of a well-known dried fruit and spice establishment to avoid the heat as temperatures soared past 30 degrees, while her husband goes in with a shopping list.

“Yes, we are concerned about the agglomeration” but “we leave it to God,” says the woman who is not wearing any protection.

Ahmed Rafaat was one of the first to notice the hard impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

He worked in the tourism sector and suffered the consequences of the of flights being cancelled and the closure of hotels and archaeological sites like the pyramids.

He knows that despite the coronavirus, Egyptians cannot do without dates in Ramadan, which are usually the first bite after fasting because they give energy and because Prophet

Muhammad did so, according to Islamic tradition.

So two weeks ago, he decided to fill his vehicle with dates, park it in a central square in Cairo and wait for customers.

“Although parking is prohibited here, the police allowed me when they saw what I was doing. In these circumstances they are being kind,” says Raafat, who assures with a smile that the residents of the neighbourhood treat him well because “this crisis has improved people’s attitude.”

Although, before and during Ramadan, the prices of the most consumed products used to skyrocket, they have decreased this year in the middle of a crisis that affects not only purchases but also the most deeply-rooted traditions.

Rafaat knows that the key to success is to offer dates a little cheaper than “greedy merchants.”

At the Bab al-Louq market, Umm Hasan, who owns a small butcher shop, says customers have decreased, regretting having to close on Fridays and Saturdays due to the restrictions imposed by the government during the weekends to prevent the spread of the virus.

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