Travel Alert - Ramadan tensions high in unstable North Africa
Rising food prices, civil uprisings and defiant dictators all threat to hamper the Muslim observation of Ramadan, the important Islamic month of fasting, which began this week.
Situated in the middle of a scorching Arabic summer, this year's Ramadan will see the patience of the faithful tested, as earthly concerns of political instability and economic woe stretch wide across North Africa and the Middle East.
Opposition forces remain unmoved in Egypt, with Tahrir square now awash with tents - as celebrations over the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak shift into seething resentment and frustration. The Egyptian people are still left with a food inflation percentage in the high teens - and with no change in sight soon, tensions are rising.
Mubarak has been charged with crimes ranging from corruption to ordering the killing of protesters, and faces trial during Ramadan. His hearing will be telecast, and it is believed the broadcasts will interrupt high-revered Ramadan related serials, enraging the Egyptian people further.
Protesters are hoping that the pressures placed on food prices during Ramadan will inspire further contestation.
Meanwhile, in Syria, security forces kicked off Ramadan by killing more than 70 protesters - who were demonstrating against the rule of President Bashar Assad - the day before the official start of the holy month. It is expected that violence will escalate as the Syrian spiral continues to whirl out of control.
Libya is also at a political stalemate - with rebel forces now fighting amongst themselves and US military involvement considered "inconclusive", it seems to be a question of if, rather than when, Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi will stand down.
However, other governments in the region are anticipating the added pressures Ramadan will bring, and are ushering through measures in an attempt to alleviate friction.
In Qatar, widespread price caps on food items have been put in place, and Bahrain has tried to snuff out Shiite uprisings by ordering increases in civl salaries.
Ramadan is well known for its intense observations of fasting, charity, benediction and religious reverence through bodily purification, but given the current, fiery circumstances surrounding the holy month, some minds will be on edge.
As a traveller, if you are in areas that are observing Ramadan, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in order not to cause offence or disruption.
- It's helpful to do some basic study on what the month means, and why it is a holy time for followers of Islam. There are a number of abstentions, prayers, rituals and adherences that are observed, and while you aren't expected to participate, its a good idea to educate yourself.
- Daily life slows way down during Ramadan, and this is simply due to increased holy reverence, and on a simpler level, a lack of energy through food. Expect businesses to have limited hours and staff, and plan ahead to the best of your ability, as you will face delays in many services.
- Ramadan spirit can be infectious, and there is certainly nothing wrong with trying the practice yourself, however just keep in mind that fasting is hard to do, and it can be very easy to become dehydrated during this time. As a traveller, you are automatically exempt from being required to fast by followers of Islam, so don't feel like you have to simply to pay respect. If you do, try to stay out of the heat as a lack of water will mean serious dehydration if you are not careful. Also, be prepared to have little energy, and as a result, an increased feeling of lethargy.
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