US embassy cable - 90ALEXANDRIA448 (original version)

ALEXANDRIA: THE MOOD OF RAMADAN (original version)

Identifier: 90ALEXANDRIA448
Wikileaks: View 90ALEXANDRIA448 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Alexandria
Created: 1990-04-15 12:50:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PINT
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
R 151250Z APR 90
FM AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8809
INFO AMEMBASSY CAIRO
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ALEXANDRIA 00448 
 
FOR NEA/EGY 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PINT 
SUBJECT:  ALEXANDRIA:  THE MOOD OF RAMADAN 
 
REF:  CAIRO 6435 
 
1.  C - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY 
----------- 
 
LIKE THE REST OF THE COUNTRY, EGYPT'S SECOND CITY 
ENTERED INTO RAMADAN ON MARCH 28 AND THE RESULTANT 
REORIENTATION OF THE DAILY WORK AND LIVING ROUTINES TO 
ACCOMODATE DAY-TIME FASTING AND NOCTURNAL FEASTING AND 
FESTIVENESS.  THE OVERALL MOOD  IS OF AN EXTENDED 
NOCTURNAL HOLIDAY SEASON, AND A PARTICULARLY INTENSE 
SOCIAL LIFE.  IT IS QUALIFIED, HOWEVER, BY A SHARPER 
SQUEEZE THIS YEAR THAN IN PAST YEARS RESULTING FROM 
DECREASED AVAILABILITY OF FOOD STAPLES EXCEPT AT MUCH 
HIGHER BLACK MARKET PRICES, OFTEN DOUBLE THE USUAL RATES. 
WHILE OUR CONTACTS COMMONLY ESTIMATE THAT NO MORE THAN 
60 PERCENT OF ALEXANDRIANS COMPLY FULLY WITH RELIGIOUSLY 
PRESCRIBED ABSTINANCE, E.G., FROM FOOD, DRINK AND 
NICOTINE  DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS, PROBABLY 80-90 PERCENT 
OF THE POPULACE ARE CAREFUL TO OBSERVE THESE STRICTURES 
IN PUBLIC.  THERE IS A CLEAR SENSE OF HEIGHTENING SOCIAL 
PRESSURE TO CONFORM WITH THE PUBLIC REPEAT PUBLIC 
NORMS OF BEHAVIOR, CONSISTENT WITH AN OVERALL CONTEXT 
OF SLOW BUT SURELY CONTINUING TREND OF ISLAMIC RELIGIOSITY. 
ATTENTION TO AND DISCUSSION OF POLITICAL ISSUES SEEMS TO 
HAVE SLACKENED WITH THE NOTABLE EXCEPTION OF INCREASING 
FOCUS AMONG THE POLITICALLY LITERATE ON ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN 
ISSUES, NOTABLYSOVIETJEWISH IMMIGRATION.  END SUMMARY. 
-- 
 
3.  DAY INTO NIGHT 
------------------ 
 
WITH A MOSLEM MAJORITY OF PERHAPS 85 PERCENT OF ITS 
ROUGHLY 5 MILLION INHABITANTS, ALEXANDRIA ON MARCH 28 
ENTERED THE LUNAR MONTH-LONG PERIOD OF RAMADAN AND RE- 
ORIENTED MUCH OF ROUTINE ACTIVITY FROM DAY TO NIGHT. 
ABOUT A WEEK LATER, THE COPTIC CHRISTIANS WHO MAKE UP 
MOST OF THE REMAINDER ENTERED INTO THEIR OBSERVANCE OF 
LENTEN FASTING.  WITH NOCTURNAL FEASTING BEGINNING AT THE 
CRACK OF CANNONS AND CALLS TO PRAYER SIGNALLING SUNDOWN 
FOLLOWED BY NIGHT TIME PROMENADES, CALLS ON FRIENDS AND 
FAMILY AND SORTIES TO OPEN-AIR CARNIVALS, MOST ALEXANDRIANS 
DO NOT GET TO BED BEFORE ONE OR TWO IN THE MORNING.  THEY 
THEN WAKE FOR A PRE-DAWN BREAKFAST.  AS A RESULT, THE 
WORK DAY COMMONLY DOES NOT BEGIN BEFORE TEN OR ELEVEN 
IN THE MORNING AND LASTS ONLY UNTIL 2:30 OR 4:00 IN 
THE AFTERNOON, ALTHOUGH STORES AND SERVICE SHOPS GEN- 
ERALLY REOPEN AT 7:30 FOR BUSINESS UNTIL 11:00 OR EVEN 
LATER.  BY LATE IN THE AFTERNOON, THE PRESCRIBED AB- 
STINENCE FROM FOOD, DRINK, AND CIGARETTES HAS LOWERED 
THE COLLECTIVE ENERGY LEVEL PERCEPTIBLY AND, NOTABLY 
AMONG MOTORISTS ANXIOUS TO GET HOME FOR A QUICK NAP 
BEFORE ANOTHER HEAVY NOCTURNAL SCHEDULE, TEMPERS HAVE 
BEEN SHARPENED. 
 
4.  CONTACTS EXPLAIN TO THIS OBSERVOR EXPERIENCING 
HIS FIRST RAMADAN IN EGYPT, THAT PERHAPS 85 OR 90 
PERCENT OF MOSLEMS ARE CAREFUL TO OBSERVE PUBLICALLY 
REPEAT PUBLICALLY THE NORMS OF DAY TIME ABSTINENCE, BUT 
THAT PROBABLY 20-30 PERCENT CANNOT RESIST THE 
TEMPTATION TO SNEAK A CIGARETTE OR A FURTIVE COFFEE OR 
SOFT DRINK AND, PERHAPS, EVEN A SNACK.  THE FEW MAJOR 
TOURIST HOTELS SELL ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ONLY TO FOREIGNERS 
AND THEN ONLY FROM 5:30 OR 6:00 IN THE EVENING UNTIL 
MIDNIGHT IN CAREFULLY LIMITED AREAS.  BY COMMON CON- 
SENSUS, EVEN THE MINORITY OF MOSLEMS WHO REGULARLY IN- 
BIBE A WHISKEY OR GIN AND TONIC AT FESTIVE OCCASIONS 
DURING THE REST OF THE YEAR, ARE CAREFUL TO ABSTAIN 
PUBLICALLY AND TOTALLY NOW.  THAT SAID, PIETY IS PRACTICAL 
ECONOMIC SENSE FOR THE TYPICAL LOW INCOME ALEXANDRIAN. 
THE LATTER'S SALARY IS ABOUT THE EQUIVALENT OF US100 
DOLLARS MONTHLY.  BEER AND LIQUOR ARE WELL BEYOND HIS 
PRICE RANGE -- AT ANYWHERE FROM THE EQUIVALENT OF ONE 
DOLLAR TO THREE DOLLARS PER LIBATION -- SO OBLIGATORY 
TEMPERANCE DURING RAMADAN REPRESENTS VIRTUALLY NO 
CHANGE FROM HIS USUAL LIFE STYLE YEAR-ROUND.  DAILY 
PRAYING IS, WE ARE TOLD, MARKEDLY MORE FREQUENT. 
OVERALL, THERE IS A SENSE OF A CONTINUED, GRADUAL 
TIGHTENING OF SOCIAL PRESSURES TO OBSERVE ISLAMIC NORMS 
IN KEEPING WITH A YEAR-ROUND TREND OF INCREASING RELI- 
GIOSITY IN OUTWARD DRESS AND BEHAVIOR. 
 
5.  FOOD:  AVAILABILITY AND PRICE SQUEEZE 
----------------------------------------- 
 
THE GENERALLY FESTIVE NOCTURNAL HOLIDAY ATMOSPHERE HAS 
BEEN QUALIFIED SIGNIFICANTLY BY A FOOD AVAILABILITY 
AND PRICE SQUEEZE WHICH IS PERCEPTIBLY SHARPER THIS YEAR 
THAN PREVIOUSLY.  ALEXANDRIANS INSIST THAT THEY PROBABLY 
CONSUME AS MUCH OR MORE OF CERTAIN TYPES OF FOODS DURING 
THIS LUNAR  MONTH THAN THEY DO IN THE REMAINING 11 MONTHS 
OF THE YEAR COMBINED.  NOTABLY, HUGE AMOUNTS OF SYRUPY 
AND OTHER HIGHLY SWEETENED CAKES, PASTRIES AND OTHER 
RICH DESSERT GOODIES.  FURTHER, IN A CULTURE NOTABLE 
FOR COMPULSIVE HOSPITALITY, RAMADAN BRINGS THAT IMPULSE 
TO A FEVERISH PEAK.  THUS, BY DISTORTING ANNUAL 
BUDGETS AND/OR BORROWING, MOST ALEXANDRIANS SPEND AS 
MUCH OR MORE THAN THEY CAN POSSIBLY AFFORD TO OBSERVE 
A DAILY PRACTICE OF LAVISH HOSPITALITY. 
 
6.  FLOUR, SUGAR, COOKING OIL AND RICE, IN THAT DESCEND- 
ING ORDER OR PRIORITY, HAVE BEEN NOTICEABLY SCARCE SINCE 
THE SECOND WEEK OF MARCH.  AVAILABILITY OF THESE STAPLES 
IS GENERALLY RESTRICTED TO BLACK MARKET SOURCES WHO 
DEMAND AND GET TWO AND THREE TIMES THE NORMAL PRICES. 
(E.G., FLOUR, SUGAR AND RICE ARE SELLING AT DOUBLE THE 
USUAL  PRICE, WHILE THE BETTER QUALITY OF COOKING OIL 
HAS SOARED OUT OF THE REACH OF MANY CONSUMERS.)  PUSHING 
AND SHOVING AT GOVERNMENT-OWNED OUTLETS BY POORER 
ALEXANDRIANS EAGER TO GET THEIR RATIONS OF THE ABOVE 
STAPLES HAS BECOME MORE INTENSE.  HOWEVER, THERE HAS BEEN 
NO REPEAT OF A TRAGIC INCIDENT IN THE DELTA TOWN OF KAFR 
DAWAR WHERE ON MARCH 26 FOUR WOMEN REPORTEDLY 
WERE CRUSHED TO DEATH IN A MOB LINED UP OUTSIDE 
A DISTRIBUTION OUTLET.  NEVERTHELESS, THERE IS 
RESENTFUL GOSSIP ABOUT GOVERNMENT OUTLET EMPLOYEES 
AND PRIVATE GROCERS LICENSED TO SELL GOVERNMENT- 
SUPPLIED COMMODITIES.  THOSE ADVANTAGEOUSLY PLACED 
ARE PROFITING HANDSOMELY FROM SALES OF GOVERNMENT 
STOCKS TO AFFLUENT INDIVIDUALS OR CORPORATE BUYERS 
LIKE RESTAURANTS OR HOTELS.  FURTHER, FRESH VEGETABLES 
HAVE JUMPED 30 PERCENT OR MORE OVER THEIR USUAL 
PRICE LEVELS.  LOCAL POLICE HAVE ATTEMPTED TO CRACK 
DOWN ON MERCHANTS GUILTY OF THE MOST EGREGIOUS PRICE- 
GOUGING BUT TO LITTLE EFFECT IN ELIMINATING IT AS 
A PREVALING PRACTICE. 
 
7.  ON BALANCE, HOWEVER, THE STRIKING EGYPTIAN 
TRAIT OF SOMEHOW MAKING DO HAS ASSERTED ITSELF 
AND THE MOOD ON THE STREETS -- BASED ON OUR SIDEWALK 
SORTIES APRIL 4 AND APRIL 9 AT NIGHT INTO THE CENTRAL 
ALEXANDRIA AREA -- IS GENERALLY RELAXED.  BARRING 
ANY FURTHER OR SUDDEN REDUCTION IN THE AVIALABILITY 
OF FOOD, THERE IS NO DISCERNIBLE INDICATION OF ANYTHING 
THAT MIGHT SPARK PUBLIC UNREST. 
 
8.  NEVERTHELESS, WE NOTE AMONG THETPOLITICALLY 
LITERATE CLUSTERS OF ELITE OPINION AN INCREASING 
CRITICAL INTEREST IN U.S. POLICIES ON THE ISSUES OF 
SOVIET JEWISH IMMIGRATION TO ISRAEL AND, MOST RECENTLY, 
THE STATUS OF JERUSALEM.  INDEED, AT A SUNDOWN DINNER 
"IFTAR" OF THREE HUNDRED PEOPLE ON APRIL 4, HOSTED 
BY THE LOCAL EGYPTIAN-AMERICAN FRIENDSHIP ASSOCIATION 
IN HIS HONOR, AMBASSADOR WISNER WAS ASKED, WITH 
IMPECCABLE COURTESY IN AN EXTREMELY ORDIAL 
SETTING, TO "EXPLAIN" THE U.S. POSITION. WARMLY 
APPLUADED FOR BOTH HIS PREPARED REMARKS AND THE Q AND 
A SESSION THAT FOLLOWED DURING THE AMBASSADOR'S 
HOUR-AND-A-QUARTER SESSION, WE NOTE THAT PRIVATE 
REMARKS TO US LATER FOCUSSED ON THE AMBASSADOR'S 
ELOQUENCE BUT THAT CONCERNS ON THE SUBSTANCE OF THE 
IMMIGRATION QUESTION REMAIN UNABATED.  INTERESTINGLY, 
WE SINCE HAVE HEARD FROM BUSINESS COMMUNITY CONTACTS 
THE APPREHENSIVE REASONING THAT GIVEN THE PRESUMED 
TERRITORIAL INABILITY OF BOTH ISRAEL PROPER AND 
THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES LITERALLY TO ACCOMODATE 
SOVIET JEWS, THE ISRAELIS ULITMATELY WILL BE OBLIGED 
TO "RE-TAKE" THE SINAI LANDS CEDED TO EGYPT.  INDEED, 
AS THE COLLECTIVE ATTENTION OF ALEXANDRIANS FOCUSES 
LITERALLY ON INGESTION AND DIGESTION, INTEREST 
IN POLITICAL ISSUES AMONG OUR RANGE OF USUAL 
BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL CIRCLE CONTACTS HAS 
SLACKENED. 
 
 
MAXIM 

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