x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gauging the mood in the new Egypt

There is a new vibrancy in discussions taking place in Cairo's cafes, restaurants and hotel lobbies.

Egyptians buy bread from a shop in Cairo.
Egyptians buy bread from a shop in Cairo.

Businessmen heading to Egypt are likely be of two types: those who have invested and those who sense that in the aftermath of a revolution that ended three decades of rule by Hosni Mubarak there are opportunities to be had.

Either type will find Cairo changed from previous visits. There is a new vibrancy in discussions taking place in cafes, restaurants and hotel lobbies.

Life has largely returned to normal with the reopening of the stock exchange last week and factories back at full production, but there are signs throughout the city of the month-and-a-half unrest that has transformed the country.

Visitors will find tanks guarding government buildings, but the soldiers spend most of their days posing for pictures with Egyptian children and the odd tourist bearing a flag. There is a joke that the tanks will not be removed until every Egyptian household has a picture of a family member in front of a tank.

Of slight concern for the wandering businessman are the protests that have been sprouting in smaller numbers since Mr Mubarak stepped down on February 11. While there have been no signs of these groups targeting foreigners, they have been occasionally violent. A seemingly calm day in Tahrir Square this month was suddenly marred by a rock fight between entrenched protesters and counter-revolutionaries.

Cairo is also still under a military curfew starting at midnight. While it may be possible to return to your hotel after hours, there is a risk of being stopped. This reporter was held at a checkpoint for half an hour and told he would have to stay there until 6am, but a plainclothes officer eventually allowed passage.

If some leisure time can be found in a busy schedule, this may be the greatest opportunity to visit the tourist sites. Queues for the pyramids of Giza and Museum of Egyptian Antiquities are non-existent, and the stalls of the Khan el-Khalili souq are filled with vendors desperate to give a good deal.

One feature of Cairo life appears to have survived the upheaval: traffic. It will take you much longer to get to a meeting than you expect, so be sure to plan. What may seem an obvious address to the visitor is usually known by some other name among taxi drivers. For instance, Nile Tower - a prominent office block - is better known as Borg Sawiris after the family that developed it.

 

bhope@thenational.ae