• Sun. Aug 14th, 2022

War in Ukraine casts shadow over Ramadan as prices soar

ByMary M. Ward

Apr 1, 2022

BEIRUT (AP) — Muslim-majority nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates have declared the holy month of Ramadan, when worshipers observe a dawn-to-dusk fast. , would begin on Saturday at sunrise.

But the raging war in Ukraine, which has sent energy and food prices skyrocketing across much of the Arab world, has cast a shadow over Islam’s holiest month this year, when the great gatherings around meals and family celebrations are a tradition.

Many were hoping for a happier Ramadan, after the coronavirus pandemic cut off the world’s 2 billion Muslims from cherished Ramadan rituals for the past two years. Instead, many are finding even the most basic items too expensive to buy this year.

The Saudi statement – based on a moon-sighting methodology – was broadcast on the kingdom’s Saudi television.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, congratulated Muslims on the arrival of Ramadan.

“We solemnly pray that God will continue to bestow his blessings and mercy upon our beloved country and its people everywhere,” he wrote on Twitter.

In Beirut, celebrations were muted and many residents expressed shock at soaring food prices, which soared further after Russia invaded Ukraine last month.

The Lebanese have faced their country’s worst economic crisis in the past two years as the currency collapsed and the country’s middle class was pushed into poverty. The collapse of the small Mediterranean country has also led to severe shortages of electricity, fuel and medicine.

“It’s not like every year because most people don’t have electricity to buy items to store and prepare for Ramadan,” said Moheidein Bazazo, owner of a grocery store in the neighborhood of Zoqaq el-Blat in Beirut.

Many shelves in Bazazo’s shop were empty on the eve of Ramadan. He said he even struggled to get hold of flour, buying it on the black market at high prices.

Hassan Ibrahim, a buyer, said he could not follow the prices. “Only those who steal or sell drugs or politicians can live. Other than that, no one else can,” he said.

Some Shiites in Lebanon, as well as Shiites in Iran and Iraq, marked the start of Ramadan a day later and would begin fasting on Sunday.

Jordan, a predominantly Sunni country, has also declared the first day of Ramadan to be Sunday, breaking away from Saudi Arabia. Kingdom news agency Petra said the Islamic religious authority was unable to spot the crescent moon indicating the start of the month.

It was not immediately clear whether Jordan’s decision was politically motivated. In 2019, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank disagreed with Saudi Arabia for the first time in recent history over declaring which day Ramadan would end. At the time, it was believed to be a veiled protest against Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries’ support for President Donald Trump’s plan for the Middle East, which many saw as favoring Israel. to the detriment of the Palestinians.

In Afghanistan, where the Taliban took control of the country last August, the high court announced that the first day of Ramadan would be Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet. Pakistan, where Sunni Muslims are the majority, would begin fasting on Saturday.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and a moon-sighting methodology can cause different countries to declare the start of Ramadan a day or two apart.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of people in the Middle East whose lives were already disrupted by conflict, displacement and poverty – from Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and in Yemen – are now wondering where their next meals will come from.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which Middle Eastern countries rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and cheap noodles. They are also major exporters of other cereals and of sunflower seed oil used for cooking.

In Cairo, where Ramadan tradition sees colorful lanterns and lights hung in the city’s narrow lanes, shoppers headed out earlier this week to stock up on groceries and festive decorations, though many could not afford to buy as many as last year.

Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer and has bought most of its wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine in recent years. The country’s currency has also plunged in recent days, adding to further pressures pushing prices higher.

“We were going to be affected, anyway. We just pray that God passes this pass,” said one customer, Hassan Ali Hassan.

In the Gaza Strip, only a few people were shopping on Friday in markets that are usually crowded at this time of year. Traders said Russia’s war on Ukraine had sent prices skyrocketing alongside the usual challenges, putting a damper on the festive atmosphere that Ramadan usually creates.

Families across the region often go pre-Ramadan shopping for dates, special desserts, and Ramadan decorations. During Ramadan, Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking or smoking from dawn to dusk each day for the entire month.

In Doha, the capital of Qatar, preparations for Ramadan this year have gone hand in hand with preparations for the FIFA World Cup to be held there in November. The lights that usually decorate the streets for Ramadan also had signs celebrating football’s biggest event and fans danced under flags representing various countries.

Iman Abu Akar, a Palestinian residing in Qatar, said preparations for this year were free from some of the many pandemic restrictions that have marked the past two Ramadans.

“This year there are fewer people, fewer restrictions, and we are also going to the World Cup, so we can experience Ramadan better,” she said as people shopped in the souk. Waqif of the city.

At the traditional al-Zawya market in Gaza City, people strolled through the narrow alleys flanked by stalls displaying Ramadan lanterns, desserts and food. They inspected the goods, but didn’t buy much.

“Prices have gone up 150%. You can’t buy nuts, foodstuffs, flour and sugar like in the past, it’s all so expensive now,” said one customer, Mazen al-Muzanar.

Living conditions for the 2.3 million Palestinians in the impoverished coastal territory are harsh, made worse by a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007.

Last year, near the end of Ramadan, a deadly 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas leaders and Israel took much joy from the festivities, including the Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows the holy month. . It was the fourth deadly war with Israel in just over a decade.

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Associated Press writers Fay Abuelgasim in Beirut, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Lujain Jo in Doha, Qatar, and Wafaa Shurafa in Gaza, Gaza Strip contributed reporting.