10/09/2010

A revealing Ramadan

Eid Mubarak Said! Ramadan ended yesterday for most of the Muslim world – some countries are ending today. The specificities of this month have contributed to highlight some of the current societal developments in the Arab countries.

First, as the the fast is always broken with pomp, the month of Ramadan is a month in which households often double their food demand, and therefore increase the budget in a way that is sometimes difficult to bear for families. In Egypt, demand growth this year has been coupled with a shortage of wheat due to the fires in Russia, which has resulted in increasing food prices, difficult to sustain for Egyptian families. In addition the country has also suffered water shortages and electricity. Discontentment is high within Egyptian society, and those seeking changes are more and more.

Secondly, throughout the month, the Courrier International has published a series of articles from Arabic newspapers in which the authors criticize the influence of increasing influence of religion on society, more visible during Ramadan. In Morocco and Algeria, many are concerned about the decline of freedom of conscience while observing the fast becomes compulsory (Du droit de ne pas faire le ramadan, 2/9/2010, from Quotidien d’Oran)). A trial of ten people for non-compliance with the fast during Ramadan also open on next 8th of November in Algeria (En finir avec la chasse aux non-jeûneurs, 7/9/2010 fromLiberté). In Lebanon, a Christian woman is frustrated not being allowed to drink a glass of wine at a hotel restaurant during Ramadan, and that « in deference to the sensibilities of Muslim customers » (Ramadan pour tous, 2/9/2010 from An-Nahar). To see authoritarian regimes like Egypt, Algeria or Morocco playing a big hand to counter criticism from the Islamist fringe of the opposition, is not a new phenomenon. But the imposition of Islamic rules in a secular democracy like Lebanon is in fact more surprising, if not disturbing.

In brief, these phenomena are noticeable during Ramadan because of a change of lifestyle and habits. But they reveal underlying trends, positive and negative, present from a long time in Arab societies, on which we have to keep an eye on.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée