“Ramadan kareem” or “A generous Ramadan” is one way Egyptians greet each other at the onset of the Muslim month of fasting. The traditional response is that God is more generous. With the birth of the new moon, Friday was declared the first day of the holy month. This year finds Egyptians exhausted by the turmoil they have been going through in their quest for change since Jan. 25, 2011. Fasting in the 40-degree Centigrade heat could be just one challenge too much this year. Traditionally a month generous in compassion, family bonding, and spirituality, Ramadan has been marked in Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries with an abundance of Arabic soap operas to keep the fasting populace entertained. This year has topped the charts. More than 70 daily series started the marathon for viewers as early as the first wee hours of Friday.
Signs of even more generosity appear as thousands of tents are erected across the city to host as many people as possible for iftar every sunset. Over many years some of these free-for-all food tables have become landmarks in certain areas. The tradition might have started to feed the hungry and the needy, but it has recently developed into a way of sharing food and bonding in compassion with others, as many have begun to frequent them in Ramadan. This year like last year, such setups across Tahrir Square or around the center of downtown Cairo have become symbolic for the ongoing process of change or revolution. There is no doubt that at this point in time Egyptians are in dire need of bonding together, building trust and working hard to rebuild a deeply eroded social capital. The month might yet offer some opportunity for unity and inner peace for the faithful.
It is, however, a very different Ramadan too. This year marks the first Ramadan with the first elected president after the revolution, and the first-ever elected president with a clear affiliation with political Islam. A long time Muslim Brotherhood member, he was the president of their political party “Freedom and Justice” when he ran and secured the post by a slim majority. In a token gesture, he has since resigned his party post and any leadership positions in the Brotherhood. Already in office for just a few days short of a month, Mr. Morsi has not yet delivered a Cabinet of ministers or his top executive, the prime minister. Instead, he has championed a generous dose of legal squabbling in yet another entertaining attempt to consolidate his power, by contesting a constitutional decree issued by his predecessor, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Attempts to reinstate the dismantled Parliament have also legally failed after some juggling. So far, the committee elected by the dissolved, unconstitutional Parliament is busily engaged in producing a draft constitution. Its legitimacy is also being contested in court. As it stands, not much has changed on the political scene, yet except maybe to feed the current polarization of the population.
This year Ramadan is expected to have a different flavor under this new presidency, as the first 100 days of Morsi’s rule continue to be under the watchful eye of some Egyptians. Many may continue to be entertained by their generous feed of soap operas, as the media shifts its focus temporarily. The holy month of Ramadan could prove to be a time of rest for the warriors.