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Cairo Seeks Business as Usual in Unusual Times

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Markets are open and fully stocked as fresh produce comes in from the countryside and abroad. Cairo, February 7, 2011

Markets are open and fully stocked as fresh produce comes in from the countryside and abroad. Cairo, February 7, 2011

Nothing says normal in Cairo like a traffic jam. And by that standard, the city is finding its way to a semblance of its regular, bustling chaos.

Even the donkey carts are back, bringing vegetables from the fertile farmlands along the Nile. But the contrast with tanks along the roads is a reminder that Egypt's political upheaval has yet to play out.

Monday marks two weeks since the protesters began demanding that President Hosni Mubarek step down. As businesses struggling to get back to normal, many are realizing the price the protests have cost.

Not only have they resulted in billions of dollars in lost tourist revenue, but in they have taken a toll on the daily lives of small businessmen.

Ahmed is a florist who has seen his profits come to a near standstill during the past two weeks. From a business and a political point of view, he thinks things were fine when President Hosni Mubarak was firmly in control.

“This now, not good,” he said, arranging flowers in his small shop along a thoroughfare. “Nice Mubarak. No problem (for) me Mubarak.”

All the same, Ahmed is hopeful that tensions will ease one way or another, and is looking ahead to a bump in customers come St. Valentine's Day, a popular celebration in this mainly Muslim country.

Some ATMs are dispensing money, with cash-strapped Cairenes in line appearing more relaxed, just like the hours of the nightly curfew.

Businesses are re-opening, as are a few private schools. And construction workers have resumed building more housing in this city of some 18 million already bursting at the seams.

The pragmatism and famed good nature of many Egyptians was on display across the city, with many here eager to dismiss the recent violence shown around the world. Some insist it was a foreign plot to discredit the country. And in any case, many argue, it's over. At least for now.

And though the political situation remains far from resolved, there are signs that even those most ardent for change are making concessions to the rhythms of daily life. Anti-Mubarak protesters are still holding firm in Tahrir Square, but among them are those who cross the checkpoints twice a day, on their way, and way back, from work.


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