The large increase of food prices in Jordan is making it hard many people to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan, with some putting the blame on the government and others blaming merchants.
"I have five children and had to borrow money to cope with a sudden jump in food prices during Ramadan," said Salem Saeed, a school teacher in the Jordanian capital Amman.
Saeed is one of many cash-strapped Jordanians who are scrambling to cover expenses during the Muslim holy month, during which people fast during the day but then feast after sundown as lavishly as their budgets permit.
"I do not know what I will do when Eid (the feast marking the end of Ramadan) comes," Saeed told AFP.
Prices of poultry, dairy and other essential products have recently surged by between seven and 30 percent since the start of Ramadan.
In a country where minimum wages are set at 110 dinars (around
156 dollars), the last thing impoverished Jordanians want is a hefty price for foodstuffs for their elaborate meals that break each day's fast.
"Greedy merchants have increased the prices without a mercy. I love the holy month, but they have spoiled our joy," Saeed said desperately as he looked for bargains.
Issa Salem, a public servant, blamed both merchants and the government for the "crazy" prices.
"Prices and living expenses have drastically risen because a lot of merchants exploited the high demand on food during Ramadan and the government does not monitor them," Salem said angrily.
But Haidar Murad, who heads the Amman Chamber of Commerce, urged people to be fair to merchants. "Honestly, I have to say that prices increased in Ramadan because they have surged internationally, and local merchants should not be blamed for all of this.”
The problem has prompted King Abdullah II to ask the government to clamp down on food price rises.
"The most important things for me are prices and the availability of basic foodstuffs for the people," the king told a cabinet meeting, two days before Ramadan started on September 13.
"We must protect the people. There are various mechanisms and I will monitor this very seriously," he warned.
The King instructed Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit to take "quick measures" to protect low- and middle-income Jordanians and to sanction those who manipulate food prices.
Bakhit last week urged the private sector to "do whatever it takes to lower the unacceptable prices," formed committees to control them and asked producers to set up "public markets" to sell directly to consumers at wholesale prices.
On the other hand, veteran economist Fahed Fanek described the price argument as "unjustified fuss."
"If the government is serious in its attempt to interfere in the market to suppress prices, the only method allowed under our present free economic system is to employ positive and negative incentives through its management of the macro economy," Fanek wrote in the English-language Jordan Times.
"If prices made a jump, the reason will not be inflation, which is under control, but the big noise made by the press and the hasty measures taken by the government. They are self-fulfilling predictions."
But whether Jordanians are frustrated at paying more for food during Ramadan, most agree that when it comes to dessert they are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.
There is one staple that will always have its place on the Ramadan table and that is "katayef" -- a sort of pancake made from flour and milk that is filled with cheese, cream or nuts that can be fried or baked.
"Shops in Ramadan are full of things that a lot of people can't buy, but katayef are a must for me during the holy month. I will buy
them regardless of the cost," said Abdullah, a mechanic.
The price of a kilogram (more than two pounds) of katayef has doubled to one dinar (1.4 dollars) in several areas around Amman since last year, Abdullah said.
Dramatic price hikes have also been reported in several other
Muslim countries ahead of Ramadan, including Qatar, Egypt and