CAIRO: Cairo fruit-sellers have a tradition of giving nicknames to their selections of dates before Ramadan and this year the leader of Lebanon s Hezbollah militia topped the unofficial popularity ratings, with the “Nasrallah the most expensive in town. The charismatic Shiite cleric, who earned great support from Arabs during his movement s month-long war with Israel, surpassed the presidents of Iran and Venezuela – Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez – two other prominent Israeli foes. There s no doubt, it is Nasrallah the victorious who gets first place, said Abdou Kashush, who has 60 kg of different types of dates laid out in little piles on his stall in the popular Cairo market of Rod El-Farag. Emulating the Prophet Mohammed, Muslims traditionally eat a date and drink milk to break the dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, whose beginning is set according to the sighting of the moon. This year, a kilogram of Nasrallah dates goes for LE 24 ($4.20), while Ahmadinejad dates sell for LE 18 ($3.14) and Chavez dates for LE 14 ($2.44). The two presidents, whose opposition to Israel and the United States has earned them vast popular support in Egypt, will have to wait another year before they can hope to succeed French President Jacques Chirac and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Ramadan dates hall of fame. Equally predictable was Ehud Olmert s poor performance on the dates market, with the Israeli premier duly succeeding Ariel Sharon in lending his name to the cheapest date on the market at LE 1.5. There was no date bearing the name of Pope Benedict XVI, whose use last week of a medieval quotation describing some of the Prophet Mohammed s teachings as evil and inhuman caused a public uproar in many Muslim countries. Kashush, who even pinned a poster of Nasrallah on his stall, explained that political nicknames appeared after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when one of the best varieties of dates was dubbed Bin Laden. In the past, we d use names from movie stars, he said. Karim Ghazi, another fruit-seller at the Rod Rl-Farag market, said the supply and quality of dates this year is generally on the rise while prices have gone down slightly.
The Nasrallah date is not cheap, however, and even if it only represents around one percent of my sales, I m expecting to make a hefty profit, he added, displaying his own poster of the Shiite leader. Egypt is the world s top date producer with 1.1 million tons a year, accounting for 16 percent of world production, ahead of Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, the fasting month is expected to start on September 23 or 24.