Severity: Warning Alert

Culture: Muslims in MENA to observe Ramadan April 23-May 24. Refrain from eating in public during fasting period.

The locations affected by this alert are:

  • Algeria
  • Bahrain
  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Morocco
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Syria
  • Tunisia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Palestinian Territories
  • Western Sahara
  • Yemen
  • Saudi Arabia

This alert began 21 Apr 2020 14:45 GMT and is scheduled to expire 24 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Ramadan
  • Location(s): Middle East and North Africa (map)
  • Time Frame: Approximately April 23-May 24
  • Impact: Business and transport disruptions; possible security incidents

Summary
Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa will begin their observance of the holy month of Ramadan on or around April 23, depending on the first sighting of the lunar crescent; exact start dates may vary locally by one to two days. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking from dawn until dusk. The end of Ramadan, marked by the Eid al-Fitr holiday, is expected to take place on or around May 24. Measures introduced by countries to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), such as domestic and international travel restrictions, movement controls, business closures, and ban on public gatherings, are all likely to impact festivities this year. Authorities will likely enhance monitoring and enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in sporadic and localized violence.

Although nonessential business operations will likely remain closed or limited as part of measures to contain COVID-19 in most countries, partial relaxation for retail outlets is possible around Eid Al-Fitr. Restaurants will likely continue providing takeaway and delivery services. Panic-buying and bulk purchases could lead to localized shortages of essential items such as food and fuel.

While practices generally vary by country, the widely observed religious introspection leads to slow-paced daylight hours, and the breaking of the fast leads to festive gatherings late into the night. Local businesses in the Middle East and North Africa typically operate on adjusted schedules to accommodate the holiday. Some diplomatic missions may have abbreviated hours. Overcrowding of public transportation and reduced availability of taxis are common in the hours surrounding iftar, the evening period when Muslims break their fast after sundown.

The Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups have conducted attacks during Ramadan; this is particularly true in Iraq, where in 2016, IS staged a major bombing that led to the deaths of more than 300 people in Baghdad. Additional security measures may also be put in place in other countries in the region during the holiday.

Advice
Remain respectful of Islamic traditions; do not eat or drink in the presence of Muslims during the daytime. Consider limiting exposure to possible militant target sites such as marketplaces, government buildings, and places of worship. Do not discuss sensitive political or religious matters in public.

Follow all official instructions; abide by national health and safety measures. Minimize outdoor activity to the extent possible. Plan for increased security in public places. Plan for transport delays, especially on arterial routes, before and after Eid al-Fitr. Reconfirm business appointments, deliveries, work, and travel arrangements. Do not check out of accommodation without confirming onward travel. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items, plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers. Carry proper identification documents, heed all traffic and security advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.