Amid terror fears, Tunisians prepare for festive Eid

Tunisia’s grand mufti is expected to announce on state television that Eid will begin either after sunset on Thursday or on the following day

Asma Ajroudi

Published: Updated:

Two weeks after waking up to the news of what their country’s worst ever militant attack, Tunisians are getting ready for happier times: the festive season of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Since the Islamic calendar follows a lunar phases, Eid falls on a different day every year within the Gregorian calendar.

Based on the sighting of the moon, Tunisia’s grand mufti is expected to announce on state television that Eid will begin either after sunset on Thursday or on the following day.

“The hustle and bustle is back to normal and people are really looking forward and preparing for Eid, just like every year,” said Sabeh Borgi, a middle-aged businesswoman from the resort city of Sousse.

“Restaurants and cafes are open until late at night and boutiques are abuzz with last-minute shoppers looking for Eid clothes and presents,” said Borgi.

“But there is a heavy security presence,” she added.

The bloody attack on a beach resort in the coastal city, which left 38 people dead, sent shock waves across the North African country, just as it began to heal from the wounds of a rampage on the capital’s main museum in March.

In response, President Beji Caid Essebsi announced earlier this month a 30-day state of emergency saying that “the continued threat” the country faced had left it in “a state of war.”

Borgi meanwhile, said that the added security is a mixed blessing.

“Seeing police everywhere makes us feel safer, but their heavy presence makes me wonder if they are expecting something big to happen,” she told Al Arabiya News.

Borgi’s thoughts reflect concerns across the nation about imminent attacks during the normally restful occasion that would worsen the already-volatile security situation.

The heat of the fear was unwittingly demonstrated on Wednesday, when a prankster reportedly let off firecrackers at a packed shopping mall in downtown Tunis, causing hundreds of shoppers to flee in a state of panic, fearing a Sousse-style attack.

The practical joke unwound further when security forces stormed the mall. Fourteen people were injured as a result of the stampede, according to news site Tunisia Live.

Eid rituals

The tense atmosphere, however, is not going to keep Borgi and others from celebrating like every year.

“We have already prepared our Eid sweets and lemonade,” said Fatma Aouadi, a stay-at-home grandmother who lives in Beja, north of Tunisia.

While the traditions of Tunisian families vary between households and regions, the making - or buying – of homemade sweets, such as the nutty pastries known as “baklawa” and several kinds of “ka’ak,” - popular Arab-style doughnuts - is a national ritual during Eid.

On the early morning of the holiday, families gather at mosques for the Eid Khutba, a special sermon given by an imam - an Islamic cleric - and followed by a short prayer.

Then, the festivities begin. Children sporting new outfits accompany their parents and visit older members of the family. The religious holiday is also an occasion for families to visit the graves of loved ones.

“I return home after the prayer and get ready to receive my children and my grandchildren,” said Aouadi, who is the oldest in her family.

“Then later in the day, my siblings and their children and grandchildren come to visit. And I then of course treat them with my sweets and homemade lemonade,” she added.

Then, the feasting continues. Families usually save their appetites for the main meal, where dishes such as the green leaf-based stew “mloukhya” or the much-loved pasta-based soup “hlalem.”

But food is not the only thing that the younger guests have to look forward to. Youngsters rush to greet their elders with “Eidek Mabrouk” (Tunisian for “Eid Mubarak”) to receive their “mahba” – small sums of money given by family members as a reward for faithfully fasting from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.