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« on: Jul 31, 2011 10:02 PM »

Sunday July 31, 2011

Season laced with fear and sadness

By AMY CHEW
sunday@thestar.com.my

This year, the holy month of Ramadan takes on an even deeper meaning in the Arab world visited by an uprising that has toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt; while in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the struggle for change continues.

IN Libya, crowds of people gather every day outside banks in the opposition-held city of Benghazi, hoping to withdraw cash to buy food and essential goods.

But there is none – the banks have run out of cash as the uprising of the Arab Spring drags into summer, and with no end in sight after more than five months of civil war.

In Egypt, millions of young people are worried about their future as the economy slows to a crawl and the job market dries up following the revolution.

This year, the holy month of Ramadan takes on an even deeper meaning in the Arab world visited by an uprising that has toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt; while in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the struggle for change continues.

During Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayers and reflection, empathy for those who are less fortunate will be lived out in homes where parents lost their sons and daughters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests, and for children who lost their fathers at Libya’s frontlines. Others will be praying for loved ones held in prisons in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen and for those gone missing during government crackdown on dissent, their unknown fate a question which haunts their families.

Some 10,000 Syrians who fled to neighbouring Turkey to escape a government crackdown against dissent will be observing Ramadan in makeshift tents under the sweltering skies of the Arabian summer.

“Lots of people lost their family members and it would be so sad to spend the Ramadan month without them all together,” Majed Ali from Libya’s city of Benghazi tells Sunday Star via skype and e-mail.

“I am sure they (families) will remember them every time they sit down to feast (break fast). I cry for those who die every day,” says Majed.

Thousands of Libyans, both rebels and government forces, have died or gone missing since the people rose against President Muammar Gaddafi on Feb 17 to protest against corruption and the brutal crushing of dissent.

This year, Ramadan will be observed in a Libya that is practically carved into half, with the eastern part of the country in the hands of opposition forces headquartered in Benghazi, and the west under Gaddafi’s control.

The fighting continues with no outcome in sight, and the conflict remains in a stalemate despite Nato airstrikes as part of the efforts to pressure Gaddafi to step down. The onset of Ramadan is not expected to bring on a ceasefire or a resolution to the conflict.

“Although it is forbidden in Islam to fight during Ramadan, if they (rebel forces) stop fighting, Gaddafi’s soldiers will attack us again,” says Majed.

“My biggest concern is for Gaddafi to step down. Just stop the fighting,” adds Majed, an engineer who used to work for a foreign company but has been unemployed since the conflict began.

Ramadan for Majed will be a far cry from the one he has known before.

This year, Majed is living in a city with 10-hour electricity cuts, food shortages and a banking system that’s running out of cash as the economy comes to a complete halt.

Once a chubby and easy-going personality whom his close friends called “teddy bear”, 29-year-old Majed has whittled down to a lighter frame and a more sombre persona.

“Many people don’t have enough food and they borrow money just to get food,” says Majed, in fluent English.

“It’s very difficult especially for those who have big families and many kids.”

Majed is also worried about security in the city. Traditionally, Ramadan is a month where young people get into fights on the streets and crowded places like petrol stations and bakeries, he says.

With so many young men walking around with arms since the uprising began, he fears what used to be fist fights will now turn into gun fights with fatal consequences.

“This coming Ramadan, I am expecting it (fights) to be worse because people now have weapons. If I fight and argue with anyone, he won’t kick and beat me like before. He will now pull out his gun,” says Majed.

In Egypt where the dried dates traditionally consumed during Ramadan are being named after the revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade long rule in February, the solidarity forged during the revolution is expected to generate greater effort to help millions struggling with economic hardship which have been exacerbated by the uprising. (Date traders in Egypt have an annual tradition of naming their merchandise after local and foreign celebrities and landmark events.)

“This year, it is obvious we should double our efforts to achieve greater targets (helping the poor) and to accommodate the increase in food demand,” says Mohamed Naggary, an engineer in Cairo, via e-mail.

The revolution has turned out to be a double-edged sword. It scared off tourists, froze business investments and triggered workers’ strikes – demanding more pay – throughout the country.

While tourists are slowly returning, economic growth is forecast to slow to 2% this year versus 5% in 2010.

“We are not producing as much as before (the revolution); lack of safety, uprising everywhere, workers strike, etc, along with an uncontrolled inflation and you will get a perfect formula for an economic struggle,” says Mohamed Faisal, a consultant who was part of the Facebook movement which helped mobilise the masses for the revolution.

This year’s Ramadan is expected to be extra difficult for the poor as the combination of high inflation and slow economic growth reduces their purchasing power to the bare minimum.

“We Egyptians, for some reason, consume during Ramadan three times more than we consume throughout the whole year. We prepare huge meals every single day . . . as you can imagine, most of the food is thrown away or given to charity,” says Faisal.

“If Egyptians manage to control their consumption habits during Ramadan, things might not get so ugly,” he adds.

The mood of Egyptians is decidedly mixed. For the optimists, they see the current economic struggle as a passing phase which will lead to better economic fundamentals.

For many, the slowdown is exacerbating the hardships and uncertainties for this nation of 80 million where an estimated 50% of the population are already living below the poverty line.

Poor people are living from day to day, getting paid one day and not the next day. Young people who are currently employed worry about their jobs as they see their friends being laid off and their company’s business go into a decline.

“I feel worried most of the time as I feel that I may be sacked any time because of the political, social and economic situation in Egypt right now,” says Naggary.

For those who are still in business, they are satisfied just to make enough to pay for expenses and their staff’s salaries.

“I have been able to break even, maybe not make a profit. And I have not laid off anyone,” says Ahmed Alsherif, managing director of Global Consulting House, a head-hunting firm.

In Bahrain, February’s uprising for reforms against the ruling elite appears to have died down for now. Dozens of people were arrested and human rights groups accused the Government of torture.

But life in this tiny, oil-rich country of 1.2 million, according to residents, has very much returned to normal.

“I would say life has returned to normal. I see Ramadan will be as the years before,” says a Malaysian working in Bahrain.

As for Syria, Bloomberg has reported that mobilisation against President Bashar al-Assad, which has followed a weekly cycle with the biggest rallies taking place after Friday prayers, may change during Ramadan. According to the report quoting Bashar Afandi and Mohammed al-Klesse, who fled Assad’s crackdown on northern Syria and are now staying in Turkish camps, opposition groups plan to shift from weekly rallies to nightly ones, held after the terawih.

The Bloomberg report also quotes Mahmoud Merhi, of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, as saying that the “mosques will play a pivotal role and every night, when people gather to pray, will resemble what we have seen after every Friday prayers.”

As fighting continues in Libya, Egyptians struggle with the economy, and Syrians camp out in refugee tents in southern Turkey, the mood will be more solemn this Ramadan compared to the past. But there is no regret for the sacrifices made in the name of reforms.

“Freedom is priceless,” says Majed.

http://thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?col=indiadiary&file=/2011/7/31/columnists/indiadiary/9205063&sec=India%20Diary
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The Almighty Allah says,

"When a servant thinks of Me, I am near.
When he invokes Me, I am with him.
If he reflects on Me in secret, I reply in secret,
And if he acknowledges Me in an assembly,
I acknowledge him in a far superior assembly."

- Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reptd by Abu Huraira

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« Reply #1 on: Aug 01, 2011 06:29 AM »

wsalam,

Such an important article for all of us to read! We are one body this Ummah. We feel what others feel, we hope what others hope . Let us make sure to keep them all in our duas. Jazaks for posting it!

ws

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