Islamists face outrage over attempt to restrict Egyptian opening hours
Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, is facing one of the toughest challenges of his administration yet over controversial plans to restrict commercial trading hours.
The decision by the government to impose a strict set of opening hours for shops, restaurants and cafes at the start of November has been met with outrage by business owners.
The new rules, which would see shops closing at 10pm, and cafes and restaurants forced to shut their doors by midnight – a prospect many find ludicrous in a country known for its thriving night culture – have become a hotly debated topic on TV and radio talk shows recently.
The proposal, which the government says will save 6 billion Egyptian pounds (£620million) a year in electricity, to save energy and help reduce state dependency on power subsidies. Pharmacies and bars that have tourist licenses will be exempt.
The move, due this month, has been met with strong opposition from business groups who say any savings will be overshadowed by a drop in sales and rise in unemployment.
Ahmed Wakeel, chief of the Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Commerce told Al-Ahram, a state-run newspaper, the plans would lead to losses of 25bn Egyptian pounds (£2.5bn). Rather than saving money the decision would only increase joblessness and weaken Egypt’s faltering economy, he said.
Cairo was voted the world’s most “24-hour city” in a study by social media network Badoo.com in 2011, beating many Western cities to the position of the city that never sleeps.
The Egyptian capital awakens at sundown when hordes of shoppers fill the streets and crowds descend upon coffee shops, chatting to friends, playing backgammon and smoking shisha water pipes. Traffic jams as late as 2 or 3am in the morning are common in central Cairo at the weekends. This vibrant scene is a staple of Egyptian culture and few want it to end. On Cairo’s main shopping street, Talaat Harb, many shops hung warnings that read: “The government’s decision to close shops early will destroy homes!”
Fathiya Abdallah, who manages a women’s clothes shop, said she opposes the change in the law on security grounds. “If all the shops are closed and the lights are out, central Cairo will not be safe, women and families will not feel able to come out and enjoy the town centre at night,” she said.
Other shop workers, however, say they would welcome cuts to their working hours. Mohammed Abou Hakim, who works at a men’s shoe shop, said a shorter working day would enable him to see more of his family. “I get home after 1am and my children are in bed, then they wake up at 7am to go to school,” he said.
At one of Egypt’s famous “ahwas” (Arabic for coffeeshops), Saeed, the manager said he felt the plans were ridiculous, adding: “They say it’s to save electricity but I only have two light bulbs on in here.”
Many also believe the move is part of an attempt by the governing Muslim Brotherhood to impose a more pious way of life.
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