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.”

Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018

Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.