Our Story Happens Here
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR News

In Post-Uprising Egypt, Everyone's Feeling The Pinch

Camel owners wait for customers on the outskirts of Cairo on March 3. Tourism continues to suffer in Egypt following the uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
Camel owners wait for customers on the outskirts of Cairo on March 3. Tourism continues to suffer in Egypt following the uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to call for the prosecution of top members of the former government.

The protest had one of the largest turnouts since the popular uprising that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February. But it fell far short of the millions who turned out at the height of the revolution.

Egyptians are finding that uprisings are expensive. The economy is suffering from uncertainty — and everyone feels the pinch.

'It's A Matter Of Panic'

Almost every Egyptian says the revolution changed the country — changed the way Egyptians think about the future.

The young organizers of a recent book fair wanted to capitalize on a new interest in reading books about Egyptian history, politics and economics, says volunteer Ahmed Yousery.

"The most important thing in Egypt right now is raising awareness," Yousery says. "If you really have an educated people, they will be capable of practicing democracy. They will be capable of building their country."

There's plenty of interest, but hardly any sales. Dahlia Ibrahim, who runs one of the largest publishing houses in Egypt, knows why.

"Because everybody is afraid. People [are] afraid to spend money," Ibrahim says. "So there [are] a lot of people without work or reduced amount of money, so they don't buy books. So this is No. 1. No. 2, even the people who are there in their shops still, there are other priorities and to save as much money as they can. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future — it's a matter of panic."

New Freedoms, But Low Cash Flow

It's the best of times and the worst of times, Ibrahim says. With the state security gone and the censorship of the Mubarak regime in the past, she can publish anything she wants.

"We can publish any title without any concern. At least for the time being — nobody knows what will happen in the future," Ibrahim says. "But I believe that the future will continue to be like this. You can publish anything."

But she doesn't have the cash flow to seize new opportunities. Government ministries can't sign new contracts, she says, because no one is in charge. Foreign investors are taking money to safer markets. International donors have pulled out funding because of the political uncertainty of a country run by the military.

"Most of the companies, most of them, are having financial problems, of course. And the vision is not clear," Ibrahim says. "To tell you the truth, things are not clear what is going to take place next day, next month. It's not clear, but at least I'm ready for the positive side."

At least the stock market ended the week on a positive note, with Egyptians doing the buying when the market hit bottom. According to economists, Egyptians poured more than $30 million into the market in the week it opened for the first time in two months.

A Tourism Industry With Few Customers

But tourism, a major pillar of Egypt's economy, has been hard hit after thousands of visitors were evacuated during the early days of the street protests in January.

On a cool spring day, almost perfect weather to see Egypt's majestic pyramids, the guides compete for the few visitors and plead for business.

The economy depends on 15 million tourists coming each year. The government is offering more than $100 million to airlines — an incentive to kick start the business again.

But Abu Yahya, a guide for 60 years, says it's never been this bad.

He is interrupted when a fight breaks out among the carriage drivers — some can no longer afford to feed their horses. They settle the dispute with horsewhips and fists, a sign of the economic pressure on the poorest Egyptians.

Yahya has 17 family members to feed.

"We ... pray, because life not be OK," he says. Still, he adds, the revolution was "very good — because it changed all the people."

Even in these tough times, he believes the revolution was worth it. Mubarak is gone and the tourists will come back, he says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.