However, it seems some traders are cashing in by hiking prices as the demand rises.
Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, begins with the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, probably on Sunday or Monday in most countries in the region.
In Egypt, the mufti said a cloud of pollution, blamed on the burning of rice chaff, would make the job of sighting the crescent moon difficult.
Average Egyptians are complaining, meanwhile, that they are having trouble paying for the food which is served at the evening iftar, or breakfast, and sohur, the last meal before dawn.
“People can no longer afford it with the price increases,” said Ahmad, who sells dried fruit in the Rod al-Farag market in Cairo.
In the last four years, an economic crisis has deepened in Egypt, with the steady devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar. This has boosted prices, as many foodstuffs are imported.
On 28 January, the government lifted the currency’s peg to the dollar, causing the Egyptian pound to drop from 4.51 to 6.15 to the dollar.
Egyptian traders named the best
dates after leader Jacques Chirac
Studies by private banks said prices had risen an average of 15% since then.
But at Rod al-Farag, the main market for dates and dried fruit, vendors said prices for food eaten during Ramadan had shot up almost 50% since last year.
“Because of the price increases, I reduced my orders by two-thirds over last year,” said Ahmad.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of hazelnuts doubled from 23 pounds last year to 46 pounds this year, while the same quantity of pistachios shot up from 46 pounds to 58 pounds and almonds went from 37 pounds a kg to 50 pounds, he said.
In Beirut, which is also in economic turmoil, hotel owners and merchants are hoping to do business with Arabs coming from Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states.
In Baghdad, which is marking its first Ramadan since Saddam Hussein was ousted, people are rushing to buy items that were once banned such as satellite dishes to tune into Arab channels broadcasting Egyptian Ramadan specials.
“Sales have increased 20 percent with the approach of Ramadan with about 480 dishes sold per week, from 90 to 150 dollars each,” said Issar Abd Allah, a partner in the Mahrajan al-Rabi Al-Awal company in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the US military commander of Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, announced the lifting of the night-time curfew in Baghdad during Ramadan.
“We are making sure our forces understand the rhythms of the people involved and the sensitivities,” Sanchez added.
Police on alert
Iraqi interim Interior Minister, Nuri Badran, called on police on Thursday to remain vigilant for possible attacks during Ramadan.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, issued its annual warning to non-Muslim foreign residents of the kingdom that they face deportation if they eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan, which is marked by an upsurge in religious devotion.
Pilgrims flock to the Muslim holy sites at Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, especially on the last 10 days of the month.
The holiest night falls on the 27th day of the month, which marks the revelation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to the Prophet Mohammad in 610 AD.