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Cablegate: This Ramadan, Things Are Different

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHCL #0175/01 2451642
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021642Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL CASABLANCA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8504
INFO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0721
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3885

UNCLAS CASABLANCA 000175

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA/MAG
COMMERCE FOR NATHANIEL MASON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV SOCI MO
SUBJECT: THIS RAMADAN, THINGS ARE DIFFERENT

REF: A) RABAT 171
B) CASABLANCA 144


1. (SBU) Summary: Conversations with Morocco's business community
and civil society reveal that this year's global economic crisis and
the country's rising food prices are having a sobering effect on
celebrating the holiest month of the Islamic year, Ramadan.
Governmental efforts to manage the impact of global economic events
on Morocco (reftels) have done little to assuage economic fears
among the lower and middle echelons of Moroccan society. Placing
further strain on household budgets is the fact that this year's
Ramadan coincides with the beginning of the school year. Even the
country's largest businesses are scaling down the number of
representational Iftars (the nightly breaking of fast during
Ramadan). This confluence of factors has led some to the conclusion
that this Ramadan is possibly the most challenging in years. End
Summary.


---------------------
Iftars On the Decline
---------------------


2. (SBU) The global economic crisis has affected Morocco on many
levels, including the way in which local businesses celebrate the
holiest month of the Islamic year. Even the country's most
prominent corporations are scaling back on the number of
representational Iftars during this year's Ramadan, an austerity
measure in response to the global slump. According to Fatiha
Tilioui, Director of Sales for the Hyatt Hotel in Casablanca,
corporate Iftar bookings have declined 20 percent compared to 2008.
Similarly, Hicham Alaoui, director of the Risk Management Office for
BMCE, one of the country's largest banks, said his company is
hosting smaller and more selective Iftars this year. Alaoui added
that this seems to be in line with the realities faced by other
actors in the banking community.


3. (SBU) As the country's largest corporations scale down on their
Iftars, small local businesses such as Mohamed Aglaz's pastry shop,
which have traditionally thrived during Ramadan, are also feeling
the pinch. Aglaz said close to 40 percent of his sales are made
during this time, but that 2009 sales have been exceptionally slow.
As a result, he has scaled down his staff and personally cut down on
the Iftars shared with his extended family. A well informed source
in Morocco's Business Federation told Econoff, "This Ramadan, things
are different."


------------------
Rising Food Prices
------------------


4. (SBU) In addition to the impact of the global economic crisis on
Moroccan businesses, the increase in food costs has taken its toll
on individual households. Rising food prices have created financial
anxiety among the lower and middle echelons of Moroccan society.
Adil Bennani works at a French bank in Casablanca. His pay used to
be more than adequate to support his family during Ramadan. But
rising food prices have changed all that, he said. Unable to
finance the expenses that come with celebrating the holy month, Adil
was left with no choice but to take out a USD 500 loan. "Rising
prices are hitting families especially hard this year", said Adil.
Raisins, prunes, and dried apricots used extensively during Ramadan
rose to USD 6 per kilo from about 4. Moreover, chicken jumped to
USD 5 per kilo from about 3.50 due to a recent heat wave which
resulted in the death of a substantial number of poultry in Morocco.

5. (SBU) Adil's story has become the rule rather than the
exception. In many households throughout Casablanca, families are
bracing themselves for what some describe as the country's "most
challenging Ramadan in years." Karim Abderrazak, general manager of
ACIMA, one of Casablanca's largest supermarket chains, said that
this year's Ramadan sales will likely be 15 percent below 2008
figures. According to Abderrazak, people cannot afford the
delicacies that come with celebrating the holy month in this
challenging time. He explained that customers are especially
burdened financially, as this year Ramadan coincides with the start
of a new school year, which traditionally entails additional
expenses.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: Despite Moroccan government efforts to manage the
global economic downturn and rising food prices during Ramadan,
discontent and nervousness continue to affect the country's lower
and middle echelons of society. This year's Ramadan has left many
Moroccans feeling powerless in the face of the economic forces that
shape their lives.

ORDONEZ

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