Business as Usual for Tahrir Square
Now, people are beginning to return to their normal life after celebrating Mubarak’s resignation as president of Egypt, ending his 30-year-reign, and the Armed Forces having taken control of the country last Friday.
The streets of downtown around Al Tahrir Square are packed, as crowds stream towards what has become the heart of these 18-day anti-Government demonstrations. People have begun to buy and sell goods. But only two days before Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt’s economical status looked quite grim.
Some days ago, Amm Abdel-Fattah’s red roses looked shy.
"We are all one. We should feel for each other. How could I celebrate Valentine’s Day while my sons were dying in Tahrir Square, protesting for my rights," Amm Abdel-Fatah, who is in his sixties, said.
His only son Mohamed used to help him in the small flower shop located in downtown Cairo.
"When I open my shop, Mohamed leaves me to join the demonstration. In fact, we have not made a profit in the past days! I understand that people don’t buy flowers in these tense times. But what can I do? It's my only job and income," he added.
A few metres away from the flower shop, Amm Moustafa was sitting on the pavement, waiting for clients whose shoes he could polish.
"As you see, it’s me who cleaned the shoes of one million people in Al Tahrir Square," Amm Moustafa laughed. "I have earned a million pounds in the past days," he joked, and then started to talk in a serious manner.
"It's our country's problem and we have to be patient. In the past two days I didn't earn more than LE 20 (less than $6). Thank God I'm not married, but this is not enough. I even thought of putting a tent up in Al Tahrir Square. Do you think it will work?" he joked, and went to buy fuul and falafel sandwiches from a nearby restaurant. It seems that restaurants were not affected to the same extent by the economic crisis; you can see their massive turnout.
"We are at the service of the people," said Raafat, an old man sitting on the restaurant’s cashier’s stool. Raafat didn't close the place, which opened three years ago, not even on the worst days of the clashes.
His restaurant used to be open until late at night. But because of the curfew from 8pm to 6am, he has to close early, resulting in heavy losses. The curfew hours were reduced by four hours to run from 12 midnight until 6am starting from Saturday.
"I had people on two shifts. But now I have to work with one shift only. The others have to sit at home. Sadly, I have no work for them," he said.
From the beginning of the Egyptian revolution on January 25, thousands of protesters filled Tahrir Square to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Umm Hanaa is in her forties and owns a small kiosk in downtown Cairo. She used to be there every day from 7am to 4pm, then went home, while her husband continued until late at night, and that was their daily life.
“The past few days have been hard. We didn’t close our kiosk altogether, but worked for only a few hours a day. Of course we were afraid that thugs would demolish our small outlet, but God is the protector,” Umm Hannaa said.
She has four children: Hannaa, 14, Rahma, 12, Huda, 9 and Mohamed, 7. It is her wish to give them a good education and future. “I feel that all the protesters in Tahrir are my sons,” said Umm Hannaa, and continued spontaneously: “I also wanted to oust the regime”.
When I stepped into the clothes shop opposite Umm Hannaa's kiosk, there was a strong smell of Koshari (an Egyptian dish). Rasha, an employee, and three of her colleagues were sitting in a corner, eating their meal. Rasha thought I was a client, left her meal and came smilingly towards me, while still munching. When she realised that I was not a client, she went back to get her dish.
"Before the revolution everything was fine. But you know, after January 25 and all the clashes that followed, we had to close, just like many other shops, because we were afraid of thugs and looters," Rasha said. She started to open up and talk about her own problems.
"I am also among those who suffer. When studying at university I worked part-time in this clothes shop. After graduation I worked for some time in a governmental organisation, but my salary was only LE350 (about $75) per month. So, I left the governmental job to work here, where I’m paid nearly twice. But this is also not enough," she explained.
"It's not fair. I am a suffering Egyptian girl, and I demand that salaries get raised." Rasha suddenly stopped talking, because she saw the manager enter the shop.
Gouhar is the owner of a two-story clothes outlet in downtown Cairo. Before January 25 he had around twenty employees.
"Now, I concentrate only on reducing my losses. This period is very hard for the Egyptian economy," Gouhar said.
When the demonstrations started, some shop owners in Abbas el-Akad Street, Nasr City, removed their goods from the shops, afraid of thugs and looters. But a few days later they overcame their fear and opened their shops again.
"There is no doubt that these days are heavy with losses. The busiest period for a clothes shop is from 6 to 11pm, and unfortunately this has been the time of the curfew. We have to close our shops at the best time," Shady said, a young man working in a clothes shop in Abbas el-Akad Street.
As for the sweet shops, popular the feast of Moulid el-Nabi (an annual celebration of Prophet Mohamed’s birth) will be celebrated across Egypt today. All sweet shops are preparing the special Moulid sweets.
"Egyptians love to celebrate this feast. It happens only once a year and people are keen to buy sweets, no matter what happens," said Alaa, the manager of a sweet shop.
Egypt's economy has suffered because of the revolution. The stock market, according to Kamco, lost $12 million in the first two days of protests before it closed. The economy has already lost at least $3.1 billion as a result of the political crisis, according to a report by the investment bank Credit Agricole. The Internet shutdown cost Egypt about $90 million, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Egyptian tourism industry accounts for 11 per cent of its GDP ($10.8 billion in 2009, according to the Egyptian Tourism Ministry). Its losses are expected to reach $1 billion, as stated by Ahmed el-Naggar, an economy expert at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, in an interview with The National newspaper.
Many messages are now shared on Facebook and Twitter from people all over the world, telling Egyptians not to be afraid of losses in the tourism industry. ‘WE ARE COMING!’ they promise.