Egyptian shopkeepers, feeling the pinch of a two-year-old recession, are complaining of low sales during festivities to mark this year's Muslim Eid Al-Adha feast — the financial equivalent of the West's Christmas and Easter shopping seasons.
"There are no customers, shops are empty and sales are very slow this year," the owner of a clothes shop in the wealthy north-east Cairo suburb of Medinet Nasr told AFP. "Stock is moving very slowly, despite sales in some shops with discounts of up to 50 percent," she said on the eve of the holiday — marking the culmination of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca — that kicks off Monday, March 5, and lasts for three days.
While Cairo's gardens and Nile-bank walks, which provide free entertainment for the public holiday, are bracing for several million visitors, downtown Cairo shops are ghostly. Shop owners can barely cover their expenses, the government evening paper Al-Massaa reported Sunday. They have had to take out loans to settle accounts with the factory owners who supply them, the paper added.
"People prefer to save their money to buy meat for the feast" when every able Muslim family is expected to slaughter a sheep, said Safaa Shinawy, a mother of four girls, who added new clothes were priced way out of her range.
Egyptian families often splash out in new clothes during feast time and children can usually be seen playing in bright colors. But such luxuries cannot be afforded in hard times. A small-sized sheep from a Cairo butcher costs around 400 Egyptian pounds ($100), compared with an average monthly wage of $115, according to government figures for 1999, and there is heavy social pressure on families to follow the tradition. According to Islamic practices, most of the meat of the slaughtered sheep should be given to the poor.
An Egyptian man, ashamed because he could not afford to buy his daughters new clothes for Eid Al-Adha, killed his two-year-old daughter — throwing her from a bridge — and nearly killed his six-year-old before being stopped by a passerby, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid said last month that the country has experienced a two-year recession due to excessive bank lending in the three years preceding the downturn. The country's president, Hosni Mubarak, acknowledged for the first time last April that Egypt was experiencing a liquidity crisis, which had caused the economy to stagnate. — (AFP, Cairo)
by Marwa Abdel Rehim
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)