CAIRO -- An Egyptian religious authority announced this week that devout Muslims should not eat or drink in public places during daylight hours as a sign of respect to those fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The House of Fatwa, which issues religious opinions, said that eating in public during fasting hours between dawn and dusk is not a personal freedom, but an “assault and offense on the sanctity" of Islam.
The announcement suggested that authorities should apply the advisory as a legal decision, but did not state the provisions of punishment. The fatwa does not include individuals who are exempt from fasting, such as non-Muslims or those who are ill.
Many Egyptians were offended by the announcement, seeing it as an affront on personal freedoms that may foreshadow future constraints, especially under Egypt's recently elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and the the rise of political Islam.
"They should have said that it’s recommended or preferable, not making it an official fatwa," said Ahmed Aggour, a young Egyptian activist who was outraged by the decision.
"I don't think this will be implemented by law, but this is a sign that they could later issue other strict fatwas. For example, they could say men and women cannot mingle in the future," Aggour said.
Although the announcement was released as an official advisory opinion, eating in public during Ramadan in Egypt is currently not a legal offense.
In other Middle Eastern countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, eating in public in daylight hours during the holy month is punishable by law.
-- Reem Abdellatif
Photo: Iraqi children wait in line for free food being distributed for iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast, at a mosque in Baghdad on Thursday. Credit: Karim Kadim / Associated Press