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Africa

Reporter's notebook: Amid the protests, Cairo shopkeepers struggle to bring in business

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2011-02-01

As protests against the Mubarak regime continue, Cairo’s shopkeepers and store owners are seeing their customer numbers dwindle. Those who do come to shop are looking only for items of the utmost necessity. France24.com takes a closer look.

Cafés, fabric merchants, clothing stores, shoe repair shops and other businesses have re-opened in Cairo as the anti-government protests that have rocked Egypt continue.

But after a week of unrest, business is slow on the usually bustling Boulaq Street in the centre of the capital.
 
“Usually at noon, this street is packed,” explained Ali, a young clothing vendor. “Today, 80 percent of the customers are missing.” On Monday, Ali only managed to sell one shirt. The rest of the clothing that Ali has in the shop – piles and piles of it, of all different styles – remains untouched.
 
Ali closed his shop when the first protest against President Hosni Mubarak erupted on January 25. “Last week’s events significantly affected my business,” Ali said, noting that on Monday he made 10 times less money in sales than he usually does.
 
Businesses under surveillance
 
The 4 p.m. curfew imposed by the authorities does not help matters. “I’m going to close my store earlier than usual. I don’t want to take the risk,” Ali said, adding that he supports the demands of the protesters. “My merchandise is worth a lot of money, and I have to protect it if things get out of control.”
 
Boulaq Street has not yet been pillaged; its store owners take turns keeping watch all night, monitoring nearby alleyways and suspicious loiterers along with other armed civilian militias. “We’re tired of working all day and keeping watch all night. But, thank God, nothing serious has happened here,” Hussein, a toy vendor, said. He keeps two iron bars inside his dust-covered store – “just in case”, he says.
 
Food remains priority
 
Farther down the street, Boutros, a Coptic [Egyptian Christian] fabric salesman, sits on a worn-down chair, waiting for customers. There is no one in sight. “I’m not complaining. There’s still some business, even if it’s less than usual,” he explains.
 
His delivery man, a toothless man named Mohamed, has had nothing to deliver since the morning. “This situation is not good for commerce in general,” Mohamed offered. “People would rather be cautious and only pay for food.”
 
Mothers making their way down the long street are almost exclusively carrying bags full of groceries. Magdi, the 71-year-old neighbourhood butcher, is smiling. His two sons are busy chopping up cow carcasses on the sidewalk as customers wait to buy meat. “My butcher shop has been open since the beginning of the protests, and I’ve had no problem,” he said, touching a cash box full of the day’s earnings.
 
A Mubarak supporter, Magdi is convinced that this “little revolt” is coming to an end. “Egypt is not Tunisia, our president won’t leave,” he said. “And whoever succeeds him will not necessarily be better.”
 

Date created : 2011-02-01

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