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Thousands pack narrow alleys in Cairo for Egypt's mega-Iftar

Thousands join Egypt's longest Iftar table
Thousands gather in Cairo for Egypt's longest Iftar table 00:59

Cairo — The narrow streets and alleys of a working-class neighborhood in Egypt's capital hosted thousands of people Monday who came together to break their Ramadan fast at the longest dinner table in the country. It was the 10th time that northern Cairo's Matareya neighborhood had hosted the annual Iftar meal on the 15th day of Ramadan, and it was the biggest so far.

Organizers said some 400 volunteers helped to line up about 700 tables along a handful of connected, and ornately decorated, streets and alleys and then fill them with food prepared by community members. There was no official count, but those behind the gathering claimed as many as 30,000 people had turned up to break their fast after sundown.

Hamada Hassan, one of the organizers, told CBS News the story of the mass-Iftar started 12 years ago on the 15th night of Ramadan when some local residents decided to break their fast together after playing soccer. No one had a house big enough to host everyone, so each went home and got some food. Then, they brought two tables out onto the street and ate together.

People pack a crowded street in northern Cairo's Matareya neighborhood for an annual mega-Iftar on the 15th day of Ramadan, March 25, 2024, in Egypt. CBS News/Ahmed Shawkat

Friends later complained they hadn't received an invite, Hassan said, and the following year, there were about 10 tables connected to seat a growing crowd. The event kept expanding, with more and more tables added year after year, until it was dubbed the longest Iftar table in Egypt.

The ritual was paused for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it made a strong comeback in 2023, with celebrities, government officials and even diplomats joining the banquet.

The Monday night gathering saw the biggest turnout to date, and the narrow old streets and alleys were packed. Some guests told CBS News it was the first time they'd been to Matareya.

People crowd around Egypt's longest Iftar table before breaking their daily fast on the 15th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Cairo's Matareya neighborhood, March 25, 2024. CBS News/Ahmed Shawkat

Bassem Mahmoud, another organizer, said some 6,000 meals were prepared for the 2023 Iftar. This year, he said they made 10,000, and they were hoping to grow even more in 2025.

Mahmoud said preparations for the Iftar started two months before the dinner, including buying and storing everything from water, juice and decorations, to cleaning and painting the streets and then festooning them with Ramadan decorations.

During Ramadan, tables of free food are set up in streets across Egypt for anyone to break their fast. Those offerings are typically intended for those in need, which makes the Matareya Iftar unique, though the organizers stress that they are sharing a meal with guests, and everyone is invited.

With balloons, fresh paint on the neighborhood walls and the streets echoing with lights and Ramadan music, the friendly atmosphere drew thousands of people this year, including some who didn't eat, but just came to enjoy the spectacle.

People pack a crowded street in the Matareya neighborhood, in Egypt's capital city of Cairo, for an annual mega-Iftar dinner on the 15th day of Ramadan, March 25, 2024, in Egypt. CBS News/Ahmed Shawkat

Some residents who chose not to venture out into the streets to participate had Iftar diners come to them instead. Locals told CBS News that complete strangers knocked on their doors and asked to come up to enjoy a better view from their balconies, and they were welcomed.

During the holy month, people typically great each other with the phrase "Ramadan Kareem," which is Arabic for "generous Ramadan." The month is traditionally a time to focus on gathering, sharing and generosity, and the Matareya community showed that spirit on the 15th day of Ramadan.

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