Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 June 2020

Coronavirus in the Middle East: how will Eid look?

The region has enjoyed varying degrees of success as it grapples with the pandemic but, as the holiday approaches, some nations are taking extra precautions

A man and his children buy toys in preparation for Eid Al Fitr in Misrata, Libya. Reuters
A man and his children buy toys in preparation for Eid Al Fitr in Misrata, Libya. Reuters

Eid Al Fitr is traditionally celebrated through morning prayers in mosques, family visits and large public gatherings, but is likely to look very different this year.

Here's how the Middle East is handling Eid during the coronavirus outbreak.

UAE

The UAE have tightened restrictions on movement for Eid after an increase in Covid-19 cases, which Dr Saif Al Dhaheri, spokesman for National Authority for Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, blamed on people failing to adhere to preventive measures.

People are not be permitted to leave their homes between 8pm and 6am each day until further notice, with the rule applied across all emirates.

Fines for flouting the regulations were also increased, including a Dh3,000 penalty for leaving home without a face mask.

Dr Al Dhaheri urged members of the public to abide by social distancing practices and avoid gatherings during the Eid holiday, saying people should use social media to express good wishes instead.

He also advised people not to give presents or money, as is common during the holiday.

Malls will remain open from 9am until 7pm each day, with a two-hour limit on visits.

Authorities have also arranged repatriation flights for citizens and a limited number of residents, as well as foreigners who wish to return home. Residents with relatives in the UAE can start to return to the country from June 1.

Mosques remain closed.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will introduce full-day lockdowns from May 23 until May 27 across the kingdom to contain the virus during Eid, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

The decision came after a sharp increase in the number of infections and includes the continued closure of mosques.

Although most parts of the kingdom were put under full lockdown after the outbreak, last month the government relaxed the curfew between 9am and 5pm.

Until the end of Ramadan, all economic activities will stay open and people can continue to move freely between these hours. However, the government did not ease restrictions in areas where cases were high.

Makkah, for example, remains under full lockdown and people are still barred from moving to and from neighbourhoods in lockdown.

The ministry stressed the need to adhere to procedures for social separation, including preventing gatherings of five or more people, to avoid penalties.

Oman

Oman has banned all gatherings and other activities for Eid after a meeting of the country’s Supreme Committee on Covid-19.

Banned activities include livestock auctions, gatherings and group celebrations.

It is mandatory to wear a face mask in public places and police can arrest anyone who breaches the rules.

The restrictions are an extension of regulations brought in during Ramadan to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Kuwait

In Kuwait, Eid falls during a 20-day total lockdown declared by the government on May 10.

At a press conference held on Twitter by the Kuwaiti Government Communication Centre, Deputy Prime Minister Anas Al Saleh urged citizens and residents to co-operate with security authorities "for their own safety".

The Central Bank of Kuwait has launched an online service to allow Kuwaitis to send money to children as gifts.

The lockdown will be followed "by a gradual return to normal life, and by then the health authorities will have completed all necessary tests to deal with this disease", Mr Al Saleh said.

Public sector work will go ahead remotely and all but essential private sector activities will be suspended.

Essential sectors such as health, security, electricity, oil and municipal services, as well as private sector companies providing services such as maintenance, will be exempt from the lockdown. Workers in these sectors will be given permits.

Bahrain

As mosques have been closed in the kingdom since March, Eid prayers will be broadcast live on radio and TV from Al Fateh Grand Mosque, at the direction of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Imams in other mosques will be allowed to proclaim the traditional Eid takbeers that precede prayers and sermons, but there will be no prayers.

The government also released guidance for working hours at pharmacies and medical centres, as well as visiting hours at hospitals during the holiday.

This month, the country eased its lockdown measures.

Bahrain closed non-essential shops and businesses in late March and barred foreign visitors from entering, but did not impose a curfew.

King Hamad also gave orders that gifts would be presented to widows and orphans during Eid.

Qatar

Qatar has paused all commercial activities until May 30, closing most shops apart from pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants that deliver food. All restrictions will be kept in place during Eid.

Those flouting rules limiting two people to a car or taking part in group exercise face jail and large fines. Face masks are also mandatory.

Iran

Iran has been slowly reopening its economy, saying it is past the peak of infections. Retail outlets from high-end malls to the meandering alleyways of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar opened their doors on May 20, although shops must close for the day at 6pm. Restaurants, gyms and other locations remain shut.

Iran had reopened mosques for two hours from midnight for Laylat Al Qadr, a high point during Ramadan that marks when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, raising hopes mosques would also open during Eid.

Iran shut its mosques and shrines in March as part of containment efforts.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki warned Iranians not to travel during the holiday.

"Definitely, such trips mean new cases of infection ... people should not travel to and from those high-risk red areas," Mr Namaki was quoted by state TV as saying.

"Some 90 per cent of the population in many areas has not yet contracted the disease. In the case of a new outbreak, it will be very difficult for me and my colleagues to control it."

Iran also celebrates Quds Day rallies on the last Friday of Ramadan. This year, the public has been asked to celebrate in their cars, driving through major cities instead of walking the streets, state news agency Mehr reported.

Iraq

Iraq is set to impose a full week-long curfew on vehicles and pedestrians during Eid, starting on Sunday, reports Mina Aldroubi.

Areas of Baghdad believed to play a role in spreading the virus began a two-week lockdown on May 20.

The areas lie in Baghdad’s peripheries and are mostly impoverished and over-crowded. They include Sadr City, Habibia, Hurriya, Shula, Ameria and Kamalia.

The Kurdish Regional Government, which governs the autonomous northern region of the country, said it would impose a three-day curfew during the holiday.

Iraq partially lifted its curfew, which is currently from 5pm and 5am local time, at the start of Ramadan.

The country has recorded a relative increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases since the curfew was partially lifted.

Lebanon

Lebanon is preparing for Eid in the dark as the country struggles to pay for its fuel imports during its worst financial crisis, causing electricity cuts to double, Lebanon correspondent Sunniva Rose writes.

The country's electricity sector never fully recovered from the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, meaning hours-long electricity cuts are a daily occurrence. The financial crisis has exacerbated the country’s power problems.

Electricity cuts increased to six hours a day in Beirut instead of the usual three, raising public anger against the government and Lebanon’s national utility company, which people have accused of squandering public funds.

But a representative for the company told The National on Thursday that the issue had been resolved and that supply should return to normal in time for Eid.

Although a nightly curfew remains in place, Lebanon has eased restrictions and mosques will be open on Friday, Dar Al Fatwa in Beirut told The National.

Places of worship reopened two weeks ago before shutting down again last week as authorities introduced a four-day lockdown after a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Dar Al Fatwa has asked mosques to introduce precautionary measures for Eid, including asking people to wear gloves and face masks and taking their temperatures.

But Dar Al Fatwa has not issued recommendations on group gatherings. “This is the police’s job,” it said.

Syria

Syria will not hold public prayers during Eid, authorities announced on May 18.

Damascus announced "the suspension of collective prayer in mosques for Eid," state news agency Sana reported.

On May 14, Syrian authorities banned public gatherings during the holiday, including fairs, and imposed a curfew from 7.30pm.

Jordan

Jordan acted quickly to combat the virus, quarantining people arriving from overseas and instituting a lockdown.

The strategy paid off, bringing cases down considerably, but its Eid restrictions will still match those of other nations in the region.

Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh said a "comprehensive" lockdown would begin on the first day of Eid.

The lockdown will prevent citizens from using their cars. Medical staff are exempt.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a four-day lockdown would be imposed nationwide to prevent the spread of the disease during Eid.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on May 20, Mr Erdogan said the lockdown would begin on May 23.

Schools would not reopen this academic year and education is to resume in person in September with the new academic year.

Mr Erdogan said mosques would begin to hold midday and afternoon prayers from May 29.

The house arrest period for prisoners released as part of coronavirus measures was extended by two months.

Egypt

Muslims in Egypt will not be able to pray at mosques at first light on the first day of Eid, as they have done for centuries, Egypt correspondent Hamza Hendawi writes.

It will be the first time in living memory that Eid prayers have been cancelled.

Shawki Allam, Egypt’s chief theologian, said Muslims should offer the Eid prayers at home with their families and assured them God would accept their prayers without prejudice.

Authorities are also to tighten restrictions during the holiday, with a nighttime curfew in place extended by four hours to begin at 5pm and end at 6am.

All public transport will be halted. Shops,cafes and restaurants will be closed, as will public parks and historical sites.

Libya

A man and his children buy toys in preparation for Eid Al Fitr in Misrata, Libya. Reuters
A man and his children buy toys in preparation for Eid Al Fitr in Misrata, Libya. Reuters

Residents of Tripoli, the centre of the conflict between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army and the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, may receive some respite during Eid.

Field Marshal Haftar's forces announced it would pull back from its battle lines by three kilometres to allow people to move more freely during Eid.

Algeria

Algerian volunteers, part of the charitable association "Joy of Eid", fill food parcels to be distributed to needy families ahead of Eid al-Fitr. AFP
Algerian volunteers, part of the charitable association "Joy of Eid", fill food parcels to be distributed to needy families ahead of Eid al-Fitr. AFP

Algeria announced it would extend its curfew hours last week.

Instead of citizens travelling between towns and villages to visit each other, the nation will be under lockdown between 1pm and 7am in most provinces and 5pm to 7am elsewhere, in some of the strictest measures in the region.

Algeria’s Religious Affairs Ministry advised Muslims to celebrate the holiday online.

Mosques will remain closed and people must wear face masks in public.

Morocco

Morocco has extended its lockdown measures until June 10, encompassing Eid.

The country's Supreme Scientific Council asked citizens to perform prayers at home because mosques remain closed.

Residents and citizens are also barred from visiting family.

“We do not want Eid to turn into mourning later,” Africa News reported Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani as telling MPs.

Tunisia

A travel ban between different regions will be in place during Eid.

Public gatherings that might lead to the spread of the virus have also been prohibited.

Yemen

Authorities in the south will place several cities under 24-hour lockdown during the holiday and religious gatherings are banned. In the capital, Sanaa, fairgrounds and parks are closed during Eid.

A dried fruit and nut merchant serves a client at a shop at an open-air market in Yemen's capital Sanaa as the nation prepares for Eid Al Fitr. AFP
A dried fruit and nut merchant serves a client at a shop at an open-air market in Yemen's capital Sanaa as the nation prepares for Eid Al Fitr. AFP

Palestine

Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, will reopen after Eid following weeks of closure.

The Islamic endowment that oversees the site under Jordanian custodianship closed the mosque to worshippers in March

The endowment said that “in light of the relative decline of the spread of the virus” it would reopen the site after the Eid.

“A mechanism and procedures regarding lifting the suspension” will be announced later, it said.

Throughout Ramadan, many families in the occupied West Bank and Gaza kept in contact using video calls, after being separated by quarantine measures.

Updated: May 21, 2020 07:10 PM

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