TUNIS - Fasting for long hours under summer scorching sun, hot weather was not the only challenge facing Tunisians this Ramadan with high prices adding to the heat of the fasting month.
"These prices are unheard of! They are worse than the Ramadan heat wave," Aisha told Agence France Presse (AFP) as she was sheltering from the blazing sun in Tunis' central market during the Muslim fasting month.
"This year everything is expensive; the prices have hit all-time highs," complains the housewife, as she eyes the well-stocked shelves, whose contents remain largely out of her price range.
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"People can only look and go on their way," Aisha added.
Tunisians celebrated the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, on Friday, July 20.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
After long fasting hours, Tunisians prepare iftar at sunset, the evening meal when Muslim's break their fast.
However, this year's rocketing prices were forcing Aisha and poor Tunisians to feed their family a plate of kadhab, any sort of vegetarian poor-man's dish without protein.
"One kilo of lemons today, at four dinars (two euros/$2.46), is eight times more expensive than before Ramadan! It's a disgrace," says Souha, blaming the speculators who profit from the hunger that follows the day-long fast.
"Briks without lemon during Ramadan, there's no point!" she adds, referring to a Tunisian dessert widely-eaten during Ramadan.
Selima, a textile worker, agreed.
"With my budget of 160 dinars (90 euros) I could get by for the month, but this year I've spent it all in the first week."
In a bid to curb price speculation, the authorities have deployed monitors, but they have met with hostility from some traders.
"The government must do what is necessary to contain high prices and increase salaries, otherwise it will be punished in the next elections," says Mohammed, a civil servant.
"What is more important than allowing people to eat during Ramadan?" he asks, recalling that last year's revolution, which ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was sparked by frustration at the poverty and precarious livelihoods of so many Tunisians.
Tunisia's Islamist government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, was formed after the first post-uprising poll in October.
Taking measure to curb high prices, the government has raised the minimum monthly salary to around 150 euros, and talks over public and private sector pay increases are in their early stages.
Yet, prices were still rocketing.
Satirizing high cost of living in the media, newspapers have been devoting entire sections to the problem of high food prices and sometimes offering cheap recipes to help people make ends meet.
Bringing prices down was urged for the Islamist government to avoid being punished in the next elections.
"People sacrificed their lives," Mohammed's wife Nabila, who works in a bank, said.
We have a government and elected MPs, but the prices have not fallen one iota.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net