Ramadan 2012: The Month of Excess
Ghania Khelifi - 04/09/2012
When Ramadan is underway, one can see it in the streets; Tired faces, shuffling feet and arms full of shopping bags. The scorching temperatures put a further brake on any activity, each and everyone devoting his little energy to buy victuals and clothes for the feast of Eid in an almost compulsive way. At the markets, Ramadan cakes and sweets sellers occupy a large number of employees and officers supposed to be at their working place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. according to the official timetable. It is not even a question of absenteeism because they can be at work whether in a private company or public administrative office without working. Even men exchange recipes and addresses to find the best bakery. The fetish answer of this month is “We'll see after Ramadan.” Government members also disappear from the national television’s screen.
All “serious” issues are kept under the hat in an almost consensual way. The concern of the majority is to ensure the daily fitr table even in low-income households. The month of Ramadan often ends with accumulated debts in order to cope with soaring prices that have become inevitable for years. Despite the massive imports of frozen meat, this prices displayed are of 1200 DA per kilo while prices for chicken are 360 DA when the minimum wage, for those who are lucky enough to have a job, painfully reaches 18,000 DA. When it comes to fruits and vegetables the prices are no better. In June the index of consumer prices had increased by 8.67% over the same period last year. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), this increase is mainly driven by the increase of 10.76% of food products. The Algerian Federation of Consumers had valiantly tried to encourage households to boycott meat and eat only vegetable proteins that are found in vegetables. As expected, this was quite unsuccessful.
Estimates from a survey conducted by the General Union of Algerian Traders (UGCCA) evaluate up to 1,2 billion loaves of bread and 70,000 tonnes of meat consumed this period. Ramadan is also synonymous with waste. According to the same organization, over 50% of the food ends up in the trash during this month that is normally devoted to sobriety. Yet 80% of this waste is inflicted by 10% of Algerians. The hygiene rules also suffer because everyone becomes a bread or sweet seller, spreading their wares on the pavement or in their garage. Fearing the people’s anger, the government closes its eyes to this flourishing informal trade. Yet this overconsumption takes places next to the Iftir tables, the meals distributed by the Ministry of Solidarity or associations and economic operators to thousands of people with no or very modest incomes. Since the beginning of Ramadan, some 645 restaurants were opened in 48 wilayas (prefectures), including 109 in Algiers. The statistics announced by the Ministry indicate 1.3 million beneficiaries. Whatever these difficulties, Ramadan remains or should be a month to celebrate.
Cities including the capital city whose streets are empty in the evening during the rest of the year are full of life at night during Ramadan. Since the evenings in luxury hotels are reserved for families with big budgets, the other ones stroll in malls or gather on the beach with a thermos of tea. Cafes, shops and public places are crowded and only during this month, women are allowed to come out at night without men for a walk or for an ice cream. Those who do not fast have also adapted themselves since their comrades found themselves in prison accused of offenses against religion. Even this year, they will pay their tribute to intolerance.
In Kabylia, policemen who appointed themselves guardians of the temple beat a man who did not fast in a police station. Their hierarchy has been hampered by media coverage of the event but no sanctions have been announced so far. The people who do not fast, including those belonging to other religions, know that it is dangerous to eat or drink in public. The risk of being assaulted by a civilian or a police officer is very high. In 2012, Ramadan is also a month of excessive lethargy and far from what many claim to do by fasting: an act of communion and humility.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech