x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Bread, not revolution, still main concern of many Egyptians

For many in Cairo, frustrated at the apparent stalemate, patience seemed to be wearing thin as protests calling for an end to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak continued for their seventh day.

Egyptians participate in the 'Million Man March' in Tahrir Square.
Egyptians participate in the 'Million Man March' in Tahrir Square.

CAIRO // In the streets just beyond Tahrir Square in Cairo, the euphoria that has emboldened unprecedented numbers of Egyptians to rebel against their government was noticeably quieter yesterday.

For many, patience seemed to be wearing thin as protests calling for an end to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak continued for their seventh day.

As parts of the capital flooded with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, thousands of others did little more than look on, some with curiosity, and others, it seemed, with contempt.

Along the usually bustling thoroughfares, many businessmen chose to keep their shops open despite calls for a national strike. Some shop owners, sitting in plastic chairs arrayed out front, seemed to cast a sceptical eye on the shouting youth making their way to join fellow demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

Meanwhile, scores of other young men, lounging on benches and sidewalks, appeared hesitant in participating in the rallies that have shaken the foundations of Mr Mubarak's three-decade rule.

Mohammed Nasser, 51, a government tax collector, blamed their reluctance on decades of residual fear of the punishing repercussions that followed agitations against the state.

"For 30 years - 30 years- people have been afraid," he said. "So now, many still don't know what they should do. Many of them don't want to fight; they just want to earn money and eat."

Despite his dislike for the Egyptian leader, Mr Nasser described his refusal to protest as a family matter. "I have children. What would they do if something happened to me?"

Others seemed less concerned with who would govern the country, and more on their immediate needs.

Hijab-clad women elbowed their way through the streets of Bulei Abu Leil, a dusty, impoverished warren close to Tahrir Square, not to shout down the Egyptian leader but to buy bread.

They swore that bread was not in short supply, even as local media reported yesterday that a baker had been killed in the capital after trying to raise his price. Moreover, growing numbers of bakeries were allegedly closing their businesses as supplies ran out.

Yet, as if preparing for worse times to come, the women still pushed and shoved their way to buy bag after bag of baguettes, hamburger buns and flatbread.

"Egypt is a safe country. We don't want all these problems," one woman, who declined to give her name, yelled as she carried a bag of traditional Egyptian flatbread.

While protesters have vowed to push on until Mr Mubarak is no longer president, others, citing concern about impending anarchy, angrily pushed back against the capital's rising revolutionary tide.

Half a dozen women shouted down a group of protesters walking through the Midaan Talaat Harb roundabout, calling for an end to the rallies. "My brothers, look at what you are doing to our country," they yelled. "You are destroying us."

Some protesters criticised such counter-revolutionary calls, saying they were shortsighted.

"They're only thinking about themselves, not about the future," said Mustafa Youssef, 25, a tour guide from Cairo.

Mr Youssef and his friend and fellow demonstrator, Ahmed Salim, also 25, blamed the government for trying to divide protesters from those who opposed such action.

"The government is deploying looters and thugs to make the situation seem worse than it is," said Mr Youssef, describing a commonly held conspiracy.

Mr Salim agreed and said that businessmen who declined to heed calls for a national strike were "afraid of what will come after the president is gone".

"So they are trying to protect themselves," he said.

Businessmen, however, describe the sentiments of Cairo's shop owners as increasingly frustrated in the stalemate between Egypt's opposition groups and Mr. Mubarak's refusal to obey demands to step down.

Earning a living, rather than ousting the president, was foremost on the minds of employees at the Ka Ba'ale women's footwear shop just off Talaat Harb Street.

"Really, Hosni Mubarak is much better than the situation right now," said Mohammed Abullah, 25, one of three shoe salesmen still running the store. Sales have dropped by as much as half since the protests erupted last week, he and the other two remaining employees, Emad Mench, 19, and Hassan Shabaad, 23, said.

Even though the shop had to lay off the other seven staff members until business recovers, the trio doubted they would see their typical monthly salaries of more than 600 Egyptian pounds (Dh376.4) anytime soon.

"Without stability, there is no bread, no food, no water," Mr Shabaad said. "All the businessmen you see around here, they aren't protesting because they're mad. We want the protests to stop - now."

hnaylor@thenational.ae