INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Cairo Date Market As Political Barometer

Published: Sun 15 Oct 2006 03:36 PM
VZCZCXRO9613
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHEG #6371 2881536
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151536Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1999
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS CAIRO 006371
SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
NSC FOR RICK WATERS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KISL EG
SUBJECT: CAIRO DATE MARKET AS POLITICAL BAROMETER
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.
1. (SBU) In a recent visit to Cairo's bustling date market,
poloff chatted with several date vendors about their
merchandise and marketing techniques. Egyptians
traditionally break the Ramadan fast with a date - a custom
that hearkens back to the 7th century, when the Prophet
Mohammed broke his fast in a similar manner - so Ramadan is
the peak season for date-sellers, as demand soars. Since the
early 1990's, Cairo date vendors have adopted the Ramadan
marketing gimmick of naming their merchandise after popular
figures of the past year - normally, singers and actors, but
depending on the events of the year, sometimes political
figures. In past years, the juiciest dates have been named
after Lebanese pop sensations Haifa Wahby and Nancy Agram,
beloved Egyptian actress Layla Elwy, Princess Diana (1997),
Saddam Hussein (2002), and Osama bin Ladin, while the dregs
of the date barrel have been advertised as Ariel Sharon (a
popular worst-date name for decades, according to our sample
of vendors) and President George W. Bush (a worst-date
standby since 2002).
2. (SBU) This year, a new name displaced Lebanese pop stars
as the most succulent and appealing date - Hassan Nasrallah
of Hizbullah (termed by various Embassy contacts and one
controversial local opinion poll as, "the most popular man in
Egypt," following this summer's Lebanon crisis). According
to several date vendors, the prized "Nasrallah" date sells
for roughly $2 a pound, and "is selling very quickly this
Ramadan - it is difficult to keep them in stock" (this holds
true for both the Cairo date market, and its counterpart in
Alexandria, where econoff spotted bags of highly-priced
Nasrallahs for sale). Several vendors commented to poloff
that they were "proud" to sell something with Nasrallah's
name - "he is a real Arab hero!"
3. (SBU) Many date merchants have termed the second most
expensive date of 2006 the "Gamal Mubarak"; as one explained
to poloff, "it is clear that he is going to take his daddy's
chair soon, so the date market must reflect this political
reality!" According to vendors, this is the first year a
"Gamal Mubarak" date has been sold, and one shopkeeper
commented to poloff in hushed tones, "we obviously had to
sell a date with that name at the top of the list, not as a
dried up date, although the bottom of the list might be where
we really think he belongs!" The worst dates of 2006
(selling at roughly 11 cents per pound) are the "Olmert"
(after the Israeli PM), "Sharon", "Bush", and the "Rice" (a
new addition to the least succulent dates of Ramadan
name-list). Date merchants told poloff that they relish the
Ramadan date-naming tradition as an opportunity to express
opinions, and simultaneously amuse the buying public so as to
increase sales.
JONES
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