Egyptians cling to Ramadan charity as inflation soars
In times of economic trouble, Egyptians are sticking firmly to the tradition of Ramadan charity, with donors and those in need hoping for a holiday.
Families buckled under the weight of inflation, which hit 32.9 percent in February as Egyptians tried to fill their shelves ahead of the Islamic holy month of daytime fasting and special evening meals, known as iftar.
“Last year, we were giving out 360 iftar meals every day — this year, I’m not sure we’ll get to 200,” said the founder of a small charity in the Cairo district of al-Marg, who is working. .
But those meals have never been more important, said the charity worker, who asked not to be named due to privacy concerns.
For many families, Ramadan boxes of food staples or daily charity iftar meals, organized in droves across the country, are “the only chance they have to eat meat or chicken,” she said.
Even before the current economic crisis — exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which destabilized vital food imports — 30 percent of Egyptians were living below the poverty line, and the same number in risk of falling into poverty, according to the World Bank. .
In addition, the cost of animal feed has increased after the chicken meal that was once affordable for the majority of Egypt’s population, nearly 105 million, has become almost extinct.
Before the start of Ramadan, the charities that thousands of Egyptians rely on were struggling to meet the needs of more people, at higher costs, with dwindling donations.
– ‘Tis the season –
But the focus is on generosity, even and especially in times of need, in Ramadan, “when most Egyptians give out their annual charity, a custom of great sustenance,” said Manal Saleh, who heads the Egyptian Clothing Bank.
Egyptians gave almost five billion Egyptian pounds to charity (about $315 million at the time) during 10 months of donations recorded in 2021, according to state media.
But of that, about “90 percent” was given during Ramadan, estimated Saleh, who also helped to find one of the biggest charities in the country, the Food Bank of Egypt.
Every day of the holy month, the sight of the mawaed al-rahman, charity tables where strangers come to break their fast for free, sometimes hundreds at a time, is a staple of the Egyptian city streets at sunset.
Many have been organized by anonymous donors such as Fouad, a 64-year-old retired engineer, who asked to use a pseudonym because his initiative is not a legally recognized charity.
This year, he and his group of friends who run the soup kitchen out of a local mosque had to double their budget, commit to feeding more people in their community and “not just the less fortunate.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, they have ditched the traditional banquet table for a makeshift grab-and-go cafeteria.
Throughout the month, the kitchen serves meals to the community, including disadvantaged families and, increasingly, warehouse clerks and other workers who can no longer afford a mid-shift hot meal, saving around 60 or 70 pounds, about two dollars.
“They know that their people need that money,” said Fouad.
– ‘People sticking together’ –
According to the latest official figures from 2021, the average salary in Egypt is 4,000 pounds per month, or $129.
Meanwhile, the price of a kilogram of holiday subsidized local meat has almost doubled to 220 pounds, about a quarter of a week’s wages.
Savings have dwindled as the currency has lost half its value in a year, and more and more people are struggling to make ends meet.
With families in classes cutting back on everything from grocery bills to schooling, charity budgets may have been the first to go.
“Honestly, I grew almost hopeless a few weeks ago, when we looked at the numbers and realized that we might not be able to pull it off this year,” Fouad told AFP.
“But those who could double their donations from last year, because they know how important it is for us to step up in times like this.”
Saleh said breaking the Ramadan charity is a tough habit.
“We’ve seen crises before, and people stick together,” Saleh said.
“I think, even if individuals are not able to give that much, you will see more people lending a hand, volunteering, making meals for those around them, even if money is tight.”