Egyptian vendors handle camels to be sold at a camel market in Berkash, 50 kilometers northwest to Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 26, 2016. Every market day, hundreds of camels are sold at this Egypt's largest camel market held at Berkash. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Ahmed Shafiq
CAIRO, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of the Muslim sacrificial feast of Eid al-Adha, livestock merchant Haasan Mohammed feels disappointed because he has yet to sell any of his camels.
"It is a season, but the high prices of sacrificial animals as well as the deteriorating financial conditions prevent people from buying sacrifices for the holy feast," the 24-year-old man said, using a long bamboo stick to discipline his camels.
Mohammed, whose family dominates Egypt's largest Birqash camel market in Giza, some 35km north of Cairo, said the demand this year might be the worst in decades, and there are only two weeks away from the feast.
Bored and frustrated, Mohammed's eyes were roving around the hundreds of camels at the vast market, which is said to be also the largest in Africa, in search for a customer.
But it is not easy to spot a buyer inside a sea of camels, where dozens of sellers would beat the animals to keep them in place.
Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, is celebrated by Muslims worldwide in memory of Prophet Abraham's near-sacrifice of his own son as ordered by God.
It comes at the end of the pilgrimage rituals in Saudi Arabia as Muslims slaughter sheep, goats, camels or calves as a means of getting closer to Allah (God).
"Almost nobody buys. People come to ask about the prices and then leave without buying any camels," he said, sitting among his camels.
Mohammed explained that the livestock's high prices can be attributed to the U.S. dollar hike in Egypt as most of the animals are imported from other countries.
"Most of these camels are brought up from Sudan and Somalia and we must pay in dollars," he said.
Egypt's economy has been struggling in the past five years due to political instability resulting from two uprisings that toppled two heads of state.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Egypt has been suffering from dwindling foreign currency reserves, which have decreased from 36 billion dollars in early 2011 to 17.5 billion dollars at the end of May 2016, and an unprecedented devaluation of its own currency.
The young man said people in Egypt have always preferred to buy camels for sacrifice since they are way cheaper than cows and buffaloes.
"But this year camels are not cheap at all," he said. "Last year's average price for a camel was 7,000 Egyptian pounds. However it is 10,000 this year."
"Merchants used to sell thousands of imported and local camels every day. You cannot imagine how this market looked like a few months ago. You could barely move due to the huge crowds of sellers, buyers and camels," Mohammed sadly recalled.
Not far away from Mohammed, Tareq Sameh from Cairo, was negotiating the price of a young camel with a livestock merchant.
But Sameh was not happy even when he reached the deal at a bargain price.
"I'm not really satisfied with the price," he said. "Same camels were sold for much lower prices last season."
The thirtyish man had intended to buy a cow, but the skyrocketing prices of calves and cows forced him to settled for a camel, which is notably less expensive.
Sameh, who owns a mobile phones store, said he can afford a sacrificial animal despite the rising prices, but he believes that the majority of Egyptians simply cannot amid such ailing economic conditions.
According to official data, Egypt's self-sufficiency ratio of red meat decreased from 75.4 percent in 2000 to 74.3 percent in 2013. And the average red meat prices have increased by 298 percent in the last 15 years.
"I hope the government would intervene to find a proper solution for animals' price hike to help Muslims to follow the sacrificial ritual," Sameh said.