High food prices curtail Eid al-Adha celebrations for some Middle Eastern families


CAIRO—As the Middle East prepares to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, many people in the region say they cannot afford cattle for the sacrificial ritual customary and reduce the family feast due to soaring food prices.

“Not everyone I know who used to slaughter an animal is doing it this year,” said Attwa Mohammed, a 41-year-old teacher who lives with his wife and three children in a small town north of Egypt. “Prices have gone up insanely everywhere.”

Eid al-Adha, which begins on Friday evening, is one of the most important holidays in Islam. According to the Islamic faith, it honors God’s decision to provide the Prophet Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice in place of his son. Muslims around the world typically slaughter animals in celebration, sitting down for a family feast while distributing the leftover meat to the poor.

After the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted their celebrations for the past two years, many across the Arab world were looking forward to larger gatherings of family and friends to mark the festival. Instead, some invite fewer guests, while others offer cheaper food options.

Um Othman, a 57-year-old cook from Baghdad, used to take several orders of pasha, a traditional simmered dish of sheep’s head, feet and stomach, and Maslawi kubba, a meat pie of lamb and pine nuts. But only two clients have asked him this year.

“It makes me sad,” she said. “It’s not just a question of money, but of habit and tradition. I wish I had enough money to cook for people just to make them happy.

The weeks leading up to Eid al-Adha usually bring a high demand for sacrificial animals at shopping venues such as Al-Manashi Market in Giza, Egypt.


Photo:

AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS

Food prices were pushed up by rising oil prices and supply disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some governments, like those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, use their oil wealth to boost social spending programs to help the poorest. Others are working to provide such support and have recently considered reducing subsidies.

As prices skyrocket, some people have started teaming up with relatives and friends to purchase a sacrificial animal to continue the tradition this year. Ahmed Ibrahim in Egypt says that after buying his own sheep every year for more than a decade, the 37-year-old has shared the cost this year with his brother. Now he fears that with ever higher prices they won’t be able to buy even a single animal next year.

In Egypt, a depreciation of the Egyptian pound further pushed up real feed and transport prices, which were rising due to higher oil prices.

In some parts of the region, the price of a sheep has increased by more than 50%. In a typical Egyptian market, an animal that used to cost between $100 and $200, depending on size, now costs between $150 and $300, for example.

In Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah, prices for a high-end local lamb variety called harri soared from 1,700 riyals (around $452) to 2,200 riyals, from around 1,400 riyals last year. , according to local lamb farmer Abu Walid.

The majority of Mr. Walid’s sales before this festival have been of a standard variety called sawakni, as customers are giving up on buying harri. The former is generally imported from Sudan and has seen its prices increase by 6 to 8%.

The increase in livestock prices has mainly affected low- and middle-income families, who also face increases in other staples, partly due to the Ukraine crisis.

High food prices curtail Eid al-Adha celebrations for some Middle Eastern families

Cattle dealers in Al-Manashi market responded to customer complaints about price hikes.


Photo:

AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS

“We haven’t had a lamb for our house this year,” said Susan Ismaeel, a 65-year-old kindergarten teacher in Jeddah. An animal would have cost her more than $530, she said. “The prices were way too high!”

Meat workers like Farhat Arfaoui are feeling the ripple effects. Mr Arfaoui owns a meat stall in a market in downtown Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, and says his business is struggling to cope as sales plummet and his own cost transport of products increases. This is after the business was largely shut down during the pandemic.

A handful of protests have erupted in Tunis over the past year, fueled by rising inflation and long-standing economic burdens such as unemployment.

Mr. Arfaoui’s family of four buys meat once a week, instead of two or three times before. His daughter asks why they eat more chicken than beef. “I keep promising that maybe next week we can eat fish or other things,” he said.

At the Al-Manashi cattle market in Giza, Egypt, cattle trader Hassan Rabouh says he finds himself on the defensive when customers get upset about having to spend more.

“A lot of people think we’re the ones inflating the prices,” he said. He tries to explain that his increases of 30 to 40% come mainly from wholesale distributors and that he tries to swallow some of it.

Along with not being able to put meat on the table for one’s family, many Muslims struggle with the guilt of not being able to provide anything for the poor during this holiday.

“I hope God forgives me,” said Ahmad Hussien, a 45-year-old from Baghdad. He was fired from his job in construction because of the pandemic last year, but even before that buying meat was a hardship. An animal costing around $250 represented more than a quarter of his monthly salary.

Write to Summer Said at summer.said@wsj.com and Chao Deng at Chao.Deng@wsj.com

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