Holy month means big business in Beirut
Ramadan-related events draw serious revenue and criticism.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Ds) – In Beirut, the pious month also means booming business, and endless opportunities in marketing, sales, and brand development. This year, Ramadan-related activities account for the vast majority of revenues for cash-strapped hotels and restaurants, as they struggle through the annual lapse in between summer and winter tourist seasons.

"It's the only bread and butter this month," said George Assaf, food and beverage manager at the Beirut Marriott Hotel. The hotel's special for iftar, the sunset feast that brings an end to each day's fast, is priced at a person - and  fully booked daily, he said, at a time when occupancy levels have plummeted to nearly 25 percent, or almost a quarter of last month's highs.

The synergy is perhaps most acute at the Movenpick seaside resort, owned by Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world's fifth richest man according to Forbes. Alwaleed also owns Middle East recording giant Rotana, which supplies nightly music acts to Movenpick's version of souhour, broadcasting the entire event live on its music video channel. The best seats in the house go for a person and it's considered the best place to be seen in town - if not in the region.

"We are not marketing Ramadan, we are marketing our food and beverage outlets during Ramadan," said Movenpick spokeswoman Joelle Kahwaji. "People are going out this month, so why not come to our hotel instead of somewhere else," she said.

But critics lament Ramadan's absorption into consumer culture, saying the move is un-Islamic and parallels the marketing evolution that they say has befallen Christmas festivities in the West.

"The purpose goes against the spirit of Ramadan," said Ahmed Moussalli, a professor of political science and Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut. He described Ramadan as a month of worship, giving and coming to terms with social suffering.

But some suggest otherwise, claiming the changing face of Ramadan could actually lead to increased tolerance. Farouk Jabr, the president of Islamic charitable organization Dar al-Aytam said iftar has gained popularity among corporate event planners drawing together Christians and Muslims, much in the same way as Christmas parties.


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