Determined by the lunar Islamic calendar, the holy month of Ramadan commenced on the evening of May 5 and will last for 29 or 30 days, based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. For the overwhelming majority of Muslims, Ramadan is a time of atonement, self-discipline, charity work and devotion to God. During this time, Muslims from around the world fast from sunrise to sunset and engage in increased religious observance. Conjointly, many Muslims devote an hour or two to reading the Quran so that by the end of Ramadan the text has been read in its entirety. A special evening prayer, Al-Taraweeh, is also carried out daily throughout the holy month.
The “night of Al-Qadr,” or “night of decree”, also known as the night of the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Prophet Mohammad, is an odd-numbered night on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan, making the last third of the month the holiest to Muslim worshippers.
Fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, includes abstaining from eating, drinking, sensual and sexual acts and negative and sinful habits. The holy practice of spiritual fasting is an obligation to all adult Muslims, with exception to athletes and those travelling, or those who suffer from an illness, the elderly, the diabetic, the chronically ill, in addition to women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating.
For Islamist extremists, Ramadan’s holiness reflects the ‘exceptional’ rewards they could receive by carrying out what they perceive as ‘acts of obedience,’ and thus, dying as ‘martyrs’ in such a blessed period. With that said, militant Islamists, including the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – known for their violent campaigns and promotion of its radical ideology since its rebranding in 2014 – attempt to intensify attacks during Ramadan.
This year, with the release of a video featuring fleeing ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi just days before Ramadan and five years after he was last seen on video, the radical leader appears to be reinvigorating the group’s sympathisers and follower base. In the video, entitled In the Hospitality of the Leader of the Faithful, Al-Baghdadi praised ISIS’ persistent grasp and deep networks internationally, despite of the recent loss of its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Al-Baghdadi encouraged revenge attacks by militants based in west Africa against “crusader France and its allies.” Al-Baghdadi praised the recent deadly Sri Lanka attacks on Easter Sunday as well as a reportedly foiled attack in Saudi Arabia.
Although Ramadan is a time of increased religious activity, reflection, charity and community actions promoting peace, the risk of militant attacks remain high during this period both for Muslim and non-Muslim observants across Egypt.
Despite more than a year passing since the launch of Comprehensive Operation Sinai – a military and security operation aiming to eliminate active militant groups in addition to narcotics and arms smuggling and human trafficking networks – the threat of attacks targeting civilians and security forces persists.
Places of worship, public gatherings, buses and security installations remain the most common targets of militant attacks in Egypt during religious worship and celebration periods.
Previous deadly attacks have taken place in Egypt during Ramadan. On May 26, 2017, ISIS militants killed at least 28 Coptic Christians and wounded dozens more during an armed attack on a bus travelling to a monastery in Minya governorate. Days later, three army officers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in the Bahariya Oasis, Giza, while a roadside bomb struck a police vehicle in Maadi, Cairo, wounding four police officers on June 18 of the same year.
Due to observed trends, there is a higher likelihood of attacks on Fridays, a day for resting and praying for Muslims. During Ramadan 2019 there are four Fridays, on May 10, 17, 24 and 31. During the “night of Al-Qadr” there is a potential higher risk of militant attacks by the most radical and extremist militant factions due to the holiness of the day.
Egypt’s security environment remains volatile, with conflict in North Sinai at the centre of the country’s military and security resources. The security situation across Egypt differs due to varying factors such as frequency and impact of militant attacks, military and security operations as well as likelihood of civil unrest and hazardous incidents. The state of emergency has been renewed on April 25, 2019, for the eighth time for another three months. The state of emergency was first imposed in April 2017, following deadly attacks on the Coptic St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria and St. George in Tanta city, Gharbia governorate, on Palm Sunday, resulting in the killing of 45 people.
As per Egyptian Labour Law, working hours in the country will be limited to six hours, from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM local time. Accordingly, peak hours will be from 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM, and from 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM. Traffic congestions as well as well as erratic driving will be higher than normal during these hours.
During fasting, some restaurants, businesses and tourist facilities may be closed between sunrise and sunset or operate with amended opening hours. Opening times for government agencies and courts may also be shortened. Iftar, the time each day the fast is broken, takes place after sunset. Egyptians usually go out after sunset, from around 7:00 PM until after midnight.
- Remain vigilant and aware.
- Anticipate heavy security presence outside and inside sites of worship, as well as public spaces, markets and malls.
- Abstinence may lead to frayed and/or sharp temper and tongue. Clients are advised to be mindful and avoid any argument with locals.
- Security presence, governmental and/or private, usually decreases in the evening hours and the first hours after sunrise. Clients are advised to not travel on roads with a low density, such as the Suez Road, at these times.
- Refrain from drinking, eating and smoking in public during the Ramadan period.
- Avoid exposure in crowded public spaces as they can be soft targets for militant attacks.
- Minimise time at popular places of worship and assess security presence and preparedness prior to entering.
- Clients are advised to avoid crowded areas and be alert for petty crimes, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching.
- Maintain regular communication with your internal/external security coordinator.
- If travelling, arrive at the airport three hours prior to your scheduled flight to avoid delay in heavy public congestion.