A Ramadan not likely to be forgotten

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Syrian opposition member Radwan Ziadeh, who headed the united opposition delegation that visited Moscow, for the first time, at the end of June, claims that "protests in Syria will intensify with the advent of the holy Muslim holiday of Ramadan." Mr Ziadeh lives in Washington D.C. but remains in permanent contact with his compatriots in Syria.

Syrian opposition member Radwan Ziadeh, who headed the united opposition delegation that visited Moscow, for the first time, at the end of June, claims that "protests in Syria will intensify with the advent of the holy Muslim holiday of Ramadan." Mr Ziadeh lives in Washington D.C. but remains in permanent contact with his compatriots in Syria.

Amar Al Kurbi, a Syrian human rights advocate, shares his opinion: "Each day during Ramadan, a great number of people gather together to attend evening prayers. Afterwards, they will take part in demonstrations."

Nightly rallies

This year, Ramadan starts on Monday, August 1. So, starting next week, many Arab countries will begin to heat up in all senses of the word, especially Syria, with its mounting antagonism between the government and the opposition. Mosques have long become centers for organized protests. It is no coincidence that the fiercest clashes have occurred after the Friday prayer. During this day off, Muslims go to mosques, pray, listen to sermons, discuss local problems, and, with increasing frequency, stage protests.

It goes without saying that this is not always the case. In times of civil peace, believers pray, talk with each other, and go home. Ramadan is usually the quietest month of the year. Muslims fast during the holiday, abstaining from food, drinks (even water), and sex during the daylight hours. As a result, during the day, people tend to be laggard and half-drowsy, but when night falls, they break the fast, usually in a festive atmosphere such as dinner at home or in a restaurant with relatives and friends. This happens every day for the entire month of the holiday.

And although few people take time off work, for many, Ramadan is both a 30-day fast and an extended weekend. Yesterday, Mohamed, a resident of Damascus, told a Reuters correspondent: "Each day of Ramadan will be like a Friday. It will be like thirty Fridays, one after the other." A 26-year-old law student, Mohamed takes to the streets every Friday, which has become the main day of the week on which protesters gather, demanding President Assad's resignation.

"Every day in Ramadan will see small protests during the day and huge sit-ins at night. We're organizing for a big push during Ramadan to get people out on the streets," he explained.

Wars and executions continue

It has been a year of revolutions in the Middle East, so this Ramadan may also be special and by no means quiet. Suggestions that the holiday is a time for reconciliation and religious focus seem to be becoming irrelevant. I was taught at one time that, during the fast, Muslims cease hostilities and display mercy to each other, but this is not always the case. The Arab world has turned upside down, and everything has changed.

The NATO command has already announced that it will continue and even intensify military operations in Libya despite Ramadan. Of the NATO participants in the operation, only Norway decided to cease fire on August 1. But this has little to do with either Muslim fasting or domestic tragedy. Oslo made the decision in June as part of a standing plan to avoid a long-term engagement. Norwegian aircraft have been bombing Libya since late March.

Ramadan will be eventful in Egypt as well. The trial of the overthrown and seriously ill former president, Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and the ex-interior minister is scheduled to take place in Cairo on August 3. Demonstrations are sure to be held whether the trial is suspended or not. Meanwhile, Iraq plans to execute six senior associates of Saddam Hussein in August, among them the former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, and the former defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai. This Ramadan does not look poised to be a month of reconciliation.

How Arab pilots broke the fast

There is no point in enumerating all possible sources of next month's tension. The Arab world is gripped by instability. However, this is not the first dramatic Ramadan in the modern history of the Middle East. In 1973, war broke out between Arabs and Israelis during Ramadan. Egypt and Syria launched coordinated attacks on October 6, 1973 to retrieve Israeli-occupied land, deliberately choosing Ramadan for the occasion. The Israelis did not expect a war. Their intelligence did not take the war preparations seriously. They thought that the Arabs would decline to fight during the holiday. The late General Vadim Kirpichenko was a Soviet intelligence operative in Cairo at the time. This is what he said in a later interview: "The stratagem worked. This was the time of Ramadan for the Arabs, and it coincided with holiday fasting for Yom Kippur in Israel." According to the general, "the Arabs got into arguments with Soviet military advisors who tried to prove that pilots of supersonic aircraft cannot afford to be incapacitated due to hunger. They insisted that the Arab pilots stay on a normal diet."

Due to the brief but fierce war that followed - not to mention the subsequent crisis of oil prices in the West - the Ramadan of 1973 was remembered for many years to come. For better or for worse, this Ramadan may prove just as unforgettable.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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