"The Chirac date is this Ramadan's surprise," said Saad Zaki, a wholesaler in the Rod al-Faraj souk in central Cairo and principal date stocker for the capital's shops.

  

It sells at £20 ($3.2) a kilo, he said.

 

"Arabs believe that President Chirac's policies on Iraq and the Palestinian cause are the most moderate," Zaki said on Tuesday, adding that "France opposed the United States, the world's superpower," over the Iraqi invasion. 

 

Date alumni

  

Chirac joins a best date alumni that includes Egyptian cinema star Laila Ulwi and Usama bin Ladin, head of the al-Qaida network.

  

This year's second best on offer is the Yasir Arafat's, taking the name of the Palestinian leader and priced between seven pounds and 15 pounds a kilo.

  

"Arabs believe that President Chirac's policies on Iraq and the Palestinian cause are the most moderate"

Saad Zaki
wholesale merchant

As with last year, the poorest quality dates have been named after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US President George  Bush.

  

Sharon's sells at one pound (16 cents) for the kilo, and Bush's 1.50 pounds(24cents).

  

During Ramadan, Muslims follow the tradition of fasting from sunrise to sunset, followed by breaking the fast with dates and drinking goat's milk.

  

But these days the iftar evening meal is often more copious, and Cairo's food stores have been stocking up on sugar and dried fruit for days in preparation for the holy month which starts on 26 or 27 October.