Every year during Ramadan, Alexandria Corniche cafes and restaurants are full of celebratory adornments, Ramadan tents receive visitors, and “Mawa’ed al-Rahman” — Mercy Tables — are spread across the city.
This year, however, the tense political situation has overshadowed the joy of Ramadan, especially after the recent clashes between supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsy. The number of cafe-goers has massively declined and most of the festive Ramadan tents have disappeared.
There are also fewer mercy tables, where the poor and those who are unable to reach their homes in time for iftar can have meals for free. Many of the tables are sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist-oriented parties or groups.
Mahmoud al-Sayed, who works for a cafe at the Asafra Corniche, says that until last year, all cafes had many customers, despite the blackouts and instability. This year, however, the turnout is 40 percent of what it was in previous years.
Political events have had a negative effect on cafes' business, especially for those located near areas where clashes can break out, al-Sayed adds. Less people go to cafes near Sidi Beshr, Sidi Gaber, and other areas that have recently seen clashes compared to cafes located farther away.
Ahmed Zaid, who runs a cafe in the Mandara area, says Ramadan is supposed to be high season for cafes, especially those on the Corniche. This season, however, customers have been turned off by the fear that clashes might break out at any moment.
Ramadan tents have almost disappeared according to Zaid. The tents had always hosted various festive activities, but this year’s tension between supporters and opponents of the ousted president have diminished Ramadan joy.
Ahmed Sayyad, who runs another cafe in Mandara, says that this Ramadan has the taste of politics. All Ramadan rituals are related to politics, he says. The owners of supermarkets fear to showcase their products lest they be destroyed in clashes. Tent owners have the same fear. Cafes open their doors but receive no visitors as people are afraid to leave their homes due to the protests.
Political instability is not the only factor in cafes' struggles during Ramadan, he adds, as unexpected power outages in the last few days have aggravated the matter.