Cairo marks full week of protests with rising passion

'Jerusalem Post' correspondent in Cairo: Poor and tourist businesses hit hard by paralyzing demonstrations.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 31, 2011 22:28
3 minute read.
Nazlet El Samman, Egypt

Camels Pyramid Egypt 311. (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)

CAIRO – Nonessential shops started to open in the downtown areas on both sides of the Nile on Monday, but in Cairo’s slums, 90 percent of the businesses stayed shuttered as the protests prepared to enter their second week.

Goats and sheep roamed the crowded alleyways as groups of vigilantes – unarmed, during the day – checked cars entering the neighborhoods at every intersection.

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Forty percent of Egyptians live under the poverty line, the UN standard of $2 per day, and they were the hardest hit by the demonstrations. As shops began to slowly open, basic commodities and food were double or triple the regular price, and stores that did open in the poorer neighborhoods were mobbed, as people worried about future shutdowns.

The few gas stations in the city that still had gasoline had lines out into the street.

The demonstration’s effect was most acutely felt in Nazlet e-Samman, the village located next to the Great Pyramids, which is totally dependent on tourism.

Scenes of foreign tourists crowded at Cairo airport, desperately waiting for charter flights arranged by their embassies, were in contrast to the main square of Nazlet e-Samman, which was filled with old men and children sitting aimlessly as a dozen horses and camels munched quietly on piles of trash.



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One local named Mahmoud, who owns 15 horses, explained that on a normal day more than 3,000 tourists would take a donkey, camel, horse or carriage ride to the Pyramids. But since the Pyramids closed midday on Saturday amid fears of looting, the village’s only source of income has dried up.

While the Pyramids were expected to reopen on Tuesday morning, it will take weeks or months for tourists to return in force.

The residents of Nazlet e-Samman were almost unanimous in their support for President Hosni Mubarak, a viewpoint nearly impossible to find downtown.

They said the protesters were upper-class Cairenes who don’t understand the importance of the stability that Mubarak brought to their lives.

“If you hate Mubarak, you’re not Egyptian,” said Fariq, an employee at the Khattab Papyrus Factory, a touristy store that sells papyrus reproductions that stood shuttered and empty on Monday.

He accused Mohamed ElBaradei, a popular opposition figure who lives in Vienna and returned to Egypt on Friday, of not understanding the needs of regular Egyptians.

“If you love my country, why are you not here?” Fariq asked. “Why are you not eating my food, sleeping in my bed, wearing my clothes, breathing my air?” Like many residents, Mahmoud and Fariq blamed inflation and corruption on Mubarak’s cabinet ministers rather than on Mubarak himself. Hatred for Vice Minister of Culture Zahi Hawass, whom they blame for imposing high taxes on tourism activities, was universal in the village.

Hawass was named state antiquities minister on Monday.

For the residents of Nazlet e-Samman, the demonstrations had already achieved their purpose: a new cabinet with new government ministers was appointed on Monday. Enough, they said, let us return to our normal lives.

But the change in ministers was not sufficient for the thousands of demonstrators on Monday. They renewed their calls for Mubarak to step down and for international leaders, especially US President Barack Obama, to pressure Mubarak to leave.

“Confidence is increasing,” said Redi, a stockbroker, in Tahrir Square, surrounded by chanting demonstrators, some of whom climbed street posts to hang effigies of Mubarak hanging from a noose.

He rejected the claim that the protesters were mostly from the upper class.

“The government is trying any means to divide the people,” he said, “but people are always finding a way to come together.”


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