x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Increasingly fed-up population may aid Egyptian government

More and more ordinary Egyptians are wishing that the strife in their country would end and life return to normal, a feeling that could boost support for Mubarak's government.

The protests that have engulfed Cairo since January 25 shave meant shortages and price increases that have added to the economic pinch that many Egyptians feel.
The protests that have engulfed Cairo since January 25 shave meant shortages and price increases that have added to the economic pinch that many Egyptians feel.

CAIRO // Standing in front of the deserted pyramids and Sphinx plateau near Cairo, Tayeb Mahmoud wipes rain drops off his new white van.

"I do not care whether [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak steps down or stays. I just have one wish - that the demonstrators in Tahrir end their sit-in and return home to be able to work again".

Mr Mahmoud is one of thousands of Egyptians who depend on the 15 million tourists who visit each year. He had just invested in a new eight-seat van a week before the demonstrations began on January 25.

Since then, Cairo has been paralysed as demonstrators refuse to leave Tahrir Square until President Hosni Mubarak steps down and ends his nearly three decades of rule.

One million tourists have fled Egypt since Mr Mubarak's supporters used violence to try to disperse the protesters. Overall, Egypt's economic losses since the start of of the protests have been huge, according to the newly appointed finance minister, Samir Radwan. Credit Agricole, the investment bank, on Friday put the losses at US$3.1 billion.

For Egyptians such as Mr Mahmoud, who operate close to the margin in normal times, the effect of the political turmoil is potentially devastating.

"I only paid the first car instalment. I still have 25 more to pay each of 2,500 Egyptian pounds (Dh1,580) while I hardly earn anything anymore", said Mr Mahmoud, a 48-year-old father of three.

Until two weeks ago, he would get his directions daily from several travel agencies to pick up and drive tourists around the city. "Now, I cannot even cross the city or come near the museum", Mr Mahmoud said.

The Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, which houses some 120,000 items dating back as many as 3,500 years, has been sealed off by soldiers and tanks since looters broke into the museum.

Other Egyptians are feeling the pinch, too. Amina and her 18-year-old son Mohey used to cross the Nile on the ferry and then travel aboard a bus to their jobs. For more than a week, she has been unable to reach the house where she works three times a week as a maid.

"Public transports as well as the ferry have not been working since almost 10 days. The café where my son works has closed down and to reach my employer I would have to take a taxi that would cost me most of my salary", she said. "Even if I used a taxi, I would have to go through the checkpoints" set up the protesters and the army.

Commuters are not the only Egyptians affected, added Amina, who wanted only her first name published.

"Last week, my employer's neighbour, an 87-year-old man, had a stroke and died before the ambulance could reach him, because of all the barricades in the square", she recalled.

Some political analysts believe says the frustration felt by Mr Mahmoud and Amina could work in the government's favour.

"The government seems to be counting on the exasperation of the population", said Nabil Abdel Fattah, an analyst at Al Ahram Center for Strategic studies.

Aziz Magued is losing his patience with the protests. Standing on top of his van, where he hands boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to his aide, Mr Magued says he has a "huge amount of admiration" for the people demanding democracy. His sympathy, however, is dwindling as days go by. Mr Magued said the trip from the market to his shop now takes three hours instead of one because he has to negotiate 32 checkpoints.

"What more do they want? They proved their point and the Rais [president] answered their demands. Now they have to leave and go back to their studies", he urges.

Some find themselves in quandary. Responding to the demonstrations, Mr Mubarak named a vice-president and vowed not to seek re-election when his term comes to an end in September. Not enough, responded the protesters.

In her elegant furniture shop in Cairo, Mona Mourad shares a similar view. "My country's interests come first, and I do not want to have to choose between its prosperity and its democracy", Ms Mourad said. Before the demonstrations started, she received up to nine orders a week to furnish entire apartments. Since then, she has received none.

For Egyptians such as Mahmoud there is no quandary when it comes to the contest between politics and bread.

"At the end of the day, my wife and children will not eat nor wear democracy. They will still need food and clothes".