Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Can Egypt’s New Leaders Handle Ramadan?

Ramadan, the Islamic month in which observant Muslims fast and refrain from any drink from sunrise to sundown, begins tomorrow evening. The tempo of life changes during Ramadan. Those observing the holiday eat before dawn, and then sleep late into the morning. Many television stations broadcast serials—some of which have received attention in the West for their outright anti-Semitism—in the Arab equivalent of sweeps week. Tempers can flare toward the late afternoon when the strain of fasting takes its toll, and it’s always best to stay clear of the roads in the couple of hours before sundown and drivers who might in any other month appear aggressive can during Ramadan bring road rage to a new level as they rush to get home.

The new Egyptian authorities will have three challenges, with very little time to prepare.

First, while they will likely face quiet mornings, people flood into the streets at night. The evening activities need not be political, but with so much tension remaining throughout the country, the Egyptian government will probably face some middle-of-the-night clashes.

Second, food becomes even more important during Ramadan than during the rest of the year. Even poor families will try to put on a better spread to entertain friends and families. Mosques also provide iftar (break-fast) meals. Distributing food is a challenge on the best of days, but if the new government falls short during Ramadan, they may hemorrhage good will far quicker than many outsiders expect.

Lastly, Ramadan can be a period of religiosity. Just as many Jews might only appear in synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and many Christians might only visit their church on Christmas and Easter, many Muslims who are less observant might be more likely to visit the mosque for communal prayers during the holy month. As the mosques have traditionally been the political center for both the Muslim Brotherhood and the broader Islamist political underground, Egyptian government hopes that the Muslim Brotherhood rage will dissipate quickly as the coup becomes a fait accompli are probably optimistic at best.