An exclusive Beirut beach bar lays on a nightly feast, along with dancers, music and a fortune-teller. But this is no ordinary beach party. It’s a Suhour, the pre-dawn meal for the pious to line their stomachs before the daily Ramadan fast.
Iftars and Suhours, with entertainment and food enough for an army, are becoming ever more lavish in Beirut. Ramadan soap-opera advertising on TV, meanwhile, is a multi-million dollar industry – the nightly series are so popular that downtown cafes have put up a forest of plasma screens to entice arguileh-smokers from their sofas. Food prices hit the roof each year as demand outstrips supply.
A chorus of criticism has sparked a debate – has Ramadan become too commercial, too like Western-style Christmas? The Ramadan fast is about empathising with and feeding the poor. But in Beirut, seen as the Middle Eastern capital of ostentation, what should be a yearly leveler can in fact highlight the gap between the haves and have-nots.
However, in a car park a few streets from the beach, volunteers load trestle tables with food. As the muezzin announces sundown, some of the capital’s poorest tuck into a rare feast. Locals bring food or lend a hand in the kitchen. To them, this act of charity is at the heart of what Ramadan means.