Egypt: ‘Standoff won’t put food in people’s mouths’

It is early afternoon in downtown Cairo, but Khaled Fathi, 46, is wondering how he will get home before curfew.

Armoured personnel carriers were seen in central Cairo yesterday. Picture: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
Armoured personnel carriers were seen in central Cairo yesterday. Picture: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

His men’s clothing store normally stays open late into the night in a city where people prefer to shop and socialise after dark. Today, he will close at 5pm, giving him time to negotiate the traffic and make it home by nightfall.

For Mr Fathi and many like him, revolution fever has given way to revolution fatigue. Over the past two years, Egypt has seen revolt and counter-revolt, weeks of protests and bouts of bloody clashes. Now the dusk-to-dawn curfew has added to the exhausting business of trying to make a living.

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“People are scared. Ninety per cent of people just want to eat and drink,” he said.

The army’s removal last month of president Mohamed Morsi has opened a divide between those who support the military takeover and Muslim Brotherhood supporters who demand the reinstatement of Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

But there is a third group of Egyptians who occupy the middle ground: all they dare to hope for is someone who can restore stability and get the economy going again.

They were dismayed by Mr Morsi’s performance in office, a year marked by economic and political chaos. However, they are also reluctant to settle for military rule after 30 years under Hosni Mubarak.

But above all, they are worried by the two sides’ failure to find common ground and create some sort of calm.

Mr Fathi said yesterday: “The Muslim Brotherhood are a political faction; they are large in number so there should have been more talks.

“Both sides need to compromise. If one side is determined to stand its ground and the other stands its ground, we’ll get nowhere. Both have a lot of support and they each need to give a little. But alas, I see more confrontation not compromise, and more lives will be lost for nothing.”

Fears that Egypt is doomed to lurch from one crisis to the next have unnerved the many whose livelihoods have suffered.

“I am not with one political faction or another. I am just talking about people’s lives that are being lost and people’s dignity that is being taken,” said Mohammed, who runs a mobile phone shop in central Cairo.

“If people are against specific issues and they protest to get policies changed that is one thing, but not every protest can be a revolution,” he said, his frown at odds with the smiling faces on the mobile phone adverts plastering his tiny shop.

“People are beginning to leave. My friend is going to the United Arab Emirates in a few days. There are no jobs here. The factories are at a standstill. If I had ten employees I would have sent them home by now. Any country that lacks stability cannot create jobs. And there are no tourists now, either.”

Interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi has proposed dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood, which has called for daily protests to press for the release of Mr Morsi from detention and his return to office.

The tension has prompted some to make comparisons with Syria, where a 2011 revolt against President Bashar al-Assad has descended into all-out civil war.

Walid Mustafa, who works in a shop that sells equipment to surveyors, said: “Hopefully, people will calm down and we won’t become like Syria. Most Egyptians just want to secure their food and drink.

“Neither the army nor the Muslim Brotherhood, nor this standoff, will put food in those people’s mouths.”