Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Egyptians gear up for Eid al-Adha

Egyptian shoppers in Cairo
Muslims traditionally wear their best or new clothes during Eid al-Adha

The Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha is a time for feast and family for Muslims across Egypt. And as the BBC's Eva Dadrian reports, the economic slowdown and swine flu threat are not stopping people pouring into the streets for last-minute shopping ahead of the celebrations.

The decorations appeared in the shops three weeks ago and multi-coloured garland lamps have been hung across the street to add to the festive spirit.

In central Cairo, shopkeepers have replenished their stocks of food, sweets and cakes.

Traders selling shoes and clothes are optimistic too, hoping that Egyptians will not spare their last pennies and enjoy themselves during this time.

Cairo is so expensive, I have spent all my savings for just a few things
Karim Abdel Fattah, shopper

Buying new outfits for Eid al-Adha is traditional, and parents may spend a fortune - and haggle furiously - to make their children look the part.

Many people come from rural towns to buy clothes that will make them stand out in the crowd back home.

"I came all the way from Mansourah (east of the Nile Delta) so I can find lovely presents for my wife and my two kids," says a worn-out Karim Abdel Fattah after spending the day bargain hunting.

"But Cairo is so expensive, I have spent all my savings for just a few things!"

Donated meat

Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, is a three-day festival that is celebrated after the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that every Muslim who can afford to and is capable is required to perform once.

One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha recalls Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.

Lamb, goat or beef are usually eaten during the festival

To mark this, Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal on that day.

Eid means festival, but Eid al-Adha in particular also has a symbolic meaning attached to it.

Giving and sharing are just as important, and alongside the celebrations the sacrifice is validated only if the meat of the slaughtered animal is distributed to the needy and the poor.

For the past month, Ali Ahmed who runs a small NGO, has been collecting funds to buy 500kg (1,100 lbs) of meat.

"Up to now, we have collected more than 350kg and on the first day of the Eid, after the morning prayers, we are going to distribute it to the needy people of the under-privileged communities in Ezbet al-Hashish, one of the poorest districts in Cairo," he says.

Others prefer to do their own thing. They buy a young cow or a sheep, hire a butcher for the slaughter and distribute the meat themselves in the area they live.


Financial pressures mean some members of the same family club together to buy an animal to share.

This year the price of a young cow has reached as high as 7,000 Egyptian pounds (US $1,280; £770) while a sheep costs between 1,500 and 2,000 Egyptian pounds (US $275 to $370; £160 to £220).

Egyptian sweets
Shops have been stocking up their wares

For many Egyptian families it represents almost their entire annual income. However the local slaughterhouses do offer cheaper meat and offal for those on a tighter budget.

Egyptian charities and civil society organisations, like the Food Bank and Muslim Aid, often distribute Qurban [meat from sacrificed animals] after the morning prayers, near two large mosques - al-Hussein mosque in al-Azhar district and Sayeda Zeinab mosque in Old Cairo - where people tend to gather on the eve of the Eid.

This year some NGOs have even started collecting funds "to feed the needy people" in Egypt as well as those in places like Gaza and Somalia.

At dawn Egyptians will start the festivities with prayers. They then have breakfast with their families and exchange presents.

While some go out to visit relatives and friends, others take to the streets, parks or the banks of the Nile to enjoy the holiday in public.

Forgive and forget

Better off Egyptians can avoid the crowds after the sacrifice by escaping to their villas or chalets by the Red Sea or on the Sahel al-Shamali on the northern coast.

And regardless of the unfortunate events that have marked Algeria-Egypt football matches earlier this month - several Algerian players were injured when their bus was attacked in Cairo - many feel Eid will be the time to forget and forgive.

"Deep inside, I am sad and I regret all what happened," says Sara Wardan.

"But I will still enjoy my Eid, because I will let nothing and no-one take away from me the joy."

When the festivities are over, the massive clear-up will begin. Cleaners will take over the streets to remove the mounds of refuse.

Shops will start dismantling their Eid al-Adha decorations for another year. And Cairo residents will have to re-engage with the realities of their daily lives.

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