SECURITY measures in Egypt, imposed after the violent crackdown on supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi in August, are hurting business, especially in the capital, Cairo.
Egypt has just extended its state of emergency for a further two months and a night-time curfew is in effect in many parts of the country.
Cairo prides itself on being a city that never sleeps. Its shops and restaurants usually stay open late into the night.
But these days it is being sent to bed early. The ban on movement after the curfew is being strictly enforced by the army, which has set up tanks and checkpoints throughout the capital.
We met Taha Fouad outside the fast-food restaurant where he works in central Cairo, during what would normally be his peak business hours. But instead the shop was preparing to close.
“All the food business in Egypt is affected because of these restrictions,” he said. “We lose 50% from our sales on Friday, and between 20% to 25% from our daily sales. And we have fixed costs. We have the salaries for the employees. We can’t tell them stop work and go away. We have to pay the salaries. There is light, there is gas, each cost we have to pay, but the sales are affected.”
Fouad said the curfew had also had an impact on his personal life.
“Malls and shops at nights are closed. When can you buy things? You have to go to shops in the morning, but in the morning you are at work.”
Cairo’s commuters are struggling too.
For weeks, there have been no rail services in or out of the capital. Cairo’s Ramses Station, which usually teams with people, is deserted.
The trains have not run since August 14, the day the authorities cleared two protest camps set up in support of Morsi. Hundreds of people were killed.
The authorities say the suspension of the trains is for security reasons. It is believed they want to stop Morsi’s supporters from other parts of Egypt from converging on the capital.
But it is causing a lot of disruption to Cairo’s workforce.
Economist Wael Ziada says an estimated two to three million people commute to Cairo every day. Without the trains, he says, “a vital transport link” has been cut off.
Many commuters now have to travel by bus. Omar, a graphic designer, comes all the way from Alexandria.
“It is very inconvenient for me now,” he said. “I have to travel four to five hours to get to work.”
“Also it’s more expensive. I pay three times more now for a minibus. It takes much longer for me to get to work. This all affects my professional and personal life.”
But even talking about the situation can be sensitive.
As we were speaking to Omar at a crowded bus stop near Ramses station, an argument broke out.
“It’s about security,” one man shouted at him. “It is to protect you and me, our sons, everyone.”
Egypt’s economy has been struggling since the 2011 revolution that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power.
Ziada says the security measures are adding to the country’s woes.
“It is estimated that the curfew has cost the economy between US$200 million and US$350 million over the last month.”
He says the situation is curbing the potential to attract foreign investments and to provide job opportunities for people.
Ziada says he is concerned “no investments will come if there is a country with a curfew”.
These days the shutter comes down on Mohammed Mustafa’s sweet shop long before his normal closing time. He says his trade in nuts, dried fruits and candy has been hit hard.
“The curfew has affected our business very, very much,” he says.
“I hope, God willing, that it will be lifted so that our work can get better. There are some stores right now that have had to lay off employees because of the condition. Thank God, we haven’t had to do that so far.”
There are hopes the curfew may be eased soon, although Egypt’s economic problems will take much longer to solve. For now, the streets at night are still eerily silent.