Egypt’s love affair with Valentine’s Day

As far back as the 1950s, Egypt had its own version of Valentine’s Day on Nov. 4. But the date never caught on in the same way as the Western date of Feb. 14. (Reuters/File photo)
Updated 14 February 2018

Egypt’s love affair with Valentine’s Day

CAIRO: Flowers, teddy bears and a proliferation of red hearts have plastered shop fronts in Cairo as Egyptians this week rekindled their annual love affair with Valentine’s Day.
Feb. 14 is one of the most celebrated events in Egypt despite the country’s at times conservative culture and the fact it is largely a Western tradition. Across the country, restaurants, hotels, florists and taxi drivers rush to cash in. But there have also been the annual grumblings from conservatives condemning the date’s popularity.
On Monday, Dar El-Ifta, the Egyptian government body founded to represent Islam and a center for Islamic legal research, said for the first time that Valentine’s Day is not forbidden in Islam.
This has led to a split in opinion on Egyptian talk shows, with channels such as Al-Haya and CBC airing debates questioning whether or not it is appropriate for a religious body to interfere in such matters.
“There are many foreign holidays that are ignored in Egypt, but Valentine’s Day is one that caught on because it hits a very important emotion with Egyptians — love,” Rola Kharsa, a TV presenter and author, told Arab News. “Love was never considered taboo in Egypt, I think it was just the fact that it was Western. But over the years, thanks to TV and especially thanks to social media, Valentine’s Day has become accepted within all social classes.”
As far back as the 1950s, Egypt had its own version of Valentine’s Day on Nov. 4. This was set by Mustafa and Ali Amin, founders of the publishing house “Akhbar Al-Yom” after publishing a poll in their paper asking people when they thought it should be celebrated.
But the date never caught on in the same way as the Western date of Feb. 14, even though it was known as “Hearts Day” up until the last decade.
In Cairo, the frenzy for the modern Valentine’s Day starts at least a week ahead of Feb. 14.
Florists raise their prices to extortionate levels, with the cost of a bouquet starting at $17 up to $55. And unlike the rest of the year, there is no room to haggle because demand is so high.
“February is the most profitable month of the year for me thanks to Valentine’s Day,” Sherif, a florist in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood, told Arab News. “But I don’t just like it because of the business. I think that it is nice that there is a day that celebrates love, and it makes me happy to see so many people in my shop buying my flowers to give to the ones they love.”
Hotel restaurant reservations also fill up quickly and offer special Valentine’s menus that — while delicious — cost much more than during the rest of the year.
“I think Valentine’s Day is such a big deal because of the fact that we’re a society that is caught between trying to be too open-minded and being like ‘Americans or Europeans,’ and the other extreme which considers it taboo,” Aya, a student at the American University in Cairo, said. “Most people in Egypt used to only celebrate birthdays, so what happens is that because people are so desperate to have someone to spend Valentine’s Day with, they also try to make it not so taboo by making it a big national event.”
While Valentine’s Day is being celebrated by more and more people of all social classes around the country, some hard-line conservatives are still against it, along with all other non-Muslim holidays.
Abu Islam, a controversial Salafist preacher sparked outrage in 2013 when he referred Valentine’s Day as “adultery day” that was only celebrated by Christians.
This mentality — while not as widely expressed as it was in 2013 before the conservative President Mohamed Morsi was in power — is still heard in some parts of Egyptian society.
But with Egyptians continuing to embrace Western celebrations and holidays and making them their own, it appears to be declining.
“My daughter just received flowers from an admirer,” said Sharbat, a domestic cleaner from the poor Imbaba neighborhood in Cairo. “Other than the fact that they are overpriced, I have no problem with it. In fact, every year I see the shops advertising Valentine’s Day more than the last.”

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

Updated 18 October 2018

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

  • ‘Law 10’ withdrawn, UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says
  • The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes

BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.

Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.

The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made ... it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”

Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.

Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News. 

“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”

Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”

Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter.  “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”

The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.