Coronavirus ‘takes flavor out of Ramadan’ in North Africa

Shoppers wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic browse through the central market in the Tunisian capital Tunis on May 4, 2020, as Tunisian authorities begin a gradual sector and region-based deconfinement process. (AFP / FETHI BELAID)
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Updated 07 May 2020

Coronavirus ‘takes flavor out of Ramadan’ in North Africa

  • Social distancing measures have largely put a stop to the usual Ramadan traditions
  • Old cities normally crowded after iftar are like ghost towns

ALGIERS: North Africans say they are missing the taste of Ramadan, as coronavirus restrictions deprive them of traditional mealtime gatherings, evening outings and beloved sweets during the Muslim holy month.
“It’s not the usual Ramadan,” said one woman shopping in Ariana, near the capital Tunis, looking desperately for the cakes and sweets that normally fill the stalls during the fasting month.
Ramadan is traditionally a time for worship and socializing.
The faithful refrain from consuming food and water during the day, breaking their fast at dusk with family and friends for a meal known as iftar, and often going out afterwards.
But this year, social distancing measures have largely put a stop to the usual Ramadan traditions.
Mosques in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been closed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, preventing special evening prayers.
There are no long nights of musical gatherings, and in the medina of Tunis, there are no Sufi-inspired “hadra” chants and no “stambali” — a mystical trance dance ritual.
The old cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Tunis, normally crowded after iftar, are like ghost towns.
“Even the meals that bring all the family together around the same table are impossible — I’m afraid for my parents, who are elderly and sick,” said Maissa, a 46-year-old teacher from Algiers.
“The coronavirus has taken all the flavour out of the holy month this year,” said the mother-of-four.
In Morocco, dates — a Ramadan staple — and sweets are still available at the markets or in supermarkets.
“But I can’t travel to have iftar at my parents’ place” due to the night-time curfew, lamented one 35-year-old teacher who lives alone in Marrakesh.
“No cafes, no people in the mosques... it’s unprecedented,” he said.
In Algeria, after businesses were allowed to reopen at the start of Ramadan in April, crowding led authorities to reimpose closures in some areas.
Some in the capital Algiers traveled to Boufarik — around 30 kilometers (18 miles) away in Blida province, the epicenter of the country’s virus outbreak in early March — for a sugary sweet known as zlabia.
One man, Salem, said that in 30 years he had never failed to have zlabia from Boufarik on the table for Ramadan, but this year he came back empty-handed.
“Most of the stalls are closed and those that are open are crowded, so I turned back,” the 51-year-old said.
Authorities in Algeria have even prohibited community restaurants and soup kitchens where volunteers serve meals to the poor during the holy month.
Fekhreddine Zerrouki said his charity organization had planned to serve more than 1,500 meals a day, but was doing deliveries instead.
Samir, a volunteer with the Algerian Red Crescent, said the number of people benefiting from such Ramadan charity initiatives was “very low compared to the number of people in need.”
“We are missing the taste of Ramadan because of the lack of zlabia or the lost evenings, but some people don’t even have dates for breaking their fast,” he said.


Palestinian National Museum art show opens in Paris

Updated 18 September 2020

Palestinian National Museum art show opens in Paris

  • Art given to the exiled museum has been held in the IMA’s reserves in France since 2015
  • “It is a Palestinian museum in exile made up of donations from artists from a number of countries which we keep in our reserves,” Former French Culture Minister Jack Lang said

PARIS:An exhibition of art donated to the as yet only notional National Museum of Palestine has gone on show in Paris.
Works by the first couple of photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck, as well as the street artist Jef Aerosol are featured in “Colors of the World,” which runs at the Arab World Institute (IMA) in the French capital until December 20.
Art given to the exiled museum has been held in the IMA’s reserves in France since 2015.
IMA chief and former French culture minister Jack Lang told AFP that so far the institute has been looking after some 400 works.
“It is a Palestinian museum in exile made up of donations from artists from a number of countries which we keep in our reserves,” Lang added.
He said he hoped a bricks and mortar Palestine museum “will be built one day in East Jerusalem.”
Palestine’s ambassador to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, said the project “may seem utopian,” but similar museums in exile were set up for South Africa under apartheid and Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship.
Alongside the show, the IMA is also staging an exhibition of photos and videos by Arab artists called “Shared Memories” drawn from the vast donation of Lebanese collector Claude Lemand.