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Nasrallah dates win the battle for the Ramadan feast table
Published in Daily News Egypt on 27 - 09 - 2006

CAIRO: Every year, Cairo merchants give nicknames to their dates, the traditional way to break the fast in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. This year s best date: the Nasrallah, named after the leader of the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Ramadan began over the weekend, at a time of swelling of support for Hezbollah and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, around the Arab world because of the tough fight they put up against Israel s army in the summer s Lebanon war.
So date stalls in the Egyptian capital are packed with Nasrallahs and Nasrallah rockets, marked with cardboard signs in Arabic and going for LE 25 a kg.
Nasrallah is the talk of the town and hot date this year, says Hakem Hanafi, a date seller at the Rod El-Farag market on the east bank of the Nile.
Previous years plumpest, most succulent dates were the Osama bin Laden and the Saddam Hussein, but they re heading down. The Saddam nicknamed has disappeared entirely from the market, while the bin Laden goes for a middling LE 5.5 a kilo.
The tradition of eating dates during Ramadan goes back to the 7th century when Islam s Prophet Mohammed broke his fast during the holy month with dates.
During Ramadan, the ninth month of Islam s lunar calendar, observant Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset. The month, when it is believed that God began revealing the Quran to Mohammed, is supposed to be a time of religious reflection, prayer and remembrance of the poor.
In Cairo, it is all those things - and a time for celebrating, late nights out with friends and family and elaborate meals for iftar, the sunset dinner that breaks the fast after the initial date has been eaten.
Streets are strung with colored lights, streamers and lanterns. Sidewalks in many places are lined with tables and chairs - the tables of the merciful, where the poor can have a free iftar, donated by local merchants or the well off.
While the streets of the city of 18 million are eerily deserted at sunset, when all are home eating, they are packed all night, with traffic jams at midnight, and street cafes packed until dawn until the sohour, the last meal before the fast resumes again at sunset.
The government ended Daylight Saving Time a few days early this year, ahead of its usual Oct. 1 date, so it wouldn t come during the month. It also means fasters have one less hour to wait until sunset, which comes at about 6 p.m.
Ramadan begins with the new moon, but each country s Islamic authorities must sight it, so if begins on different days in different countries. The month started Sunday in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, but on Saturday in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the millennium-old Al-Hussein neighborhood of Cairo, Salwa Abdul-Hamid, an interior decorator and mother of four, was rushing around doing her shopping before sunset.
Dates, special spices and incenses are essential in the Ramadan shopping list, she said, checking out the merchandise at a spice shops, where spices, dates - including Nasrallahs - and nuts were displayed in sacks and straw baskets.
Abdul-Hamid stocked up on nuts for snacking on through the night as the family gathers in front of the television, as well as desserts dripping with honey and qamareldeen, an apricot paste used to make a traditional Ramadan drink.
Children also have their share of fun, Abdul-Hamid said as she was negotiating a price for a small lantern. It is a must for every kid in Ramadan. The lantern, or fanoos, is a traditional symbol of Ramadan, and streets hang with then, made of elaborate tin and colored glass.
Many in Egypt and across the Arab world are glued to their television sets during Ramadan, watching miniseries comedies and dramas put out especially for the month.
The Egyptian people are announcing the end of their work and production season and starting their annual Ramadan vacation, wrote satirist Ahmed Ragab in the pro-government daily Al-Akhbar, so they can dedicate their time to eating and watching TV.

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