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Middle East

In Egypt, life slowly begins returning to normal after turmoil

  • An Egyptian vendor hangs his stuff outside his souvenir store in the Khan El-Khalili market, normally a popular tourist destination, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

CAIRO: Faten al-Gundi waits for a taxi in the center of the Egyptian capital, where life is gradually returning to normal after a week of political violence.

“I didn’t go to work for a week because I was afraid,” she tells Agence France Presse.

“The situation is much better now, transport is up-and-running normally and I feel much safer,” the mother-of-three says, before jumping in a taxi at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, site of Egypt’s famous 2011 uprising.

Throughout the Egyptian capital, shops were reopening Monday, and many of the city’s 20 million residents were in the streets, going to work and about their business as normal.

The scenes were far from those of a week earlier, when the bustling metropolis lay almost silent in parts, in the wake of deadly violence between protesters and police.

The clashes began Aug. 14, when security forces moved into two tent cities of protesters calling for the reinstatement of ousted Islamist President Mohammad Morsi.

The operation sparked nationwide violence that left nearly 600 people dead in a single day.

By the end of the week, nearly 1,000 people had died, and the country’s interim government had imposed a nighttime curfew on 14 provinces.

But in recent days, amid a fierce crackdown by authorities, Islamists have been unable to muster large numbers at demonstrations.

As the unrest has abated, the authorities announced Saturday that they would shorten the curfew by two hours, though the country remains under a state of emergency.

Iman Abdel-Aziz, sitting inside a crowded microbus in Cairo, says she has felt “safer since the army arrested the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Last week, authorities announced the arrest of Mohammad Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood organization to which Morsi also belongs.

He and other senior Brotherhood members have been detained along with thousands of others, according to security sources.

With the semblance of normality, however, the city’s habitual traffic jams have also returned, accompanied by a chorus of car horns.

Cairo’s infamous traffic had been made worse by police and army checkpoints on the roads, but even those have gradually been replaced by regular traffic police post.

Banks, which had been closed or opening their doors for just a few hours a day, are now open for business between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on orders from the central bank.

A deputy bank director confirmed to AFP that business had returned to normal, after a week in which customers almost dried out.

In a busy shopping street in the Mohandiseen neighborhood, shop windows are still protected by iron bars, in a nod to the unrest that hit the area.

But after 10 days of silence, the street is once again packed with cars and shoppers.

“Last week was a disaster, but today we are returning to near-normality,” says one shopkeeper, who declines to give his name.

The story is the same in local restaurants, which closed their doors during the worst of the violence, but have also been hard-hit by the city’s curfew.

Imposed on Aug. 14, as the violence began, the curfew ran from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., forcing most businesses to close several hours earlier to allow staff to get home.

The government’s announcement Saturday, pushing back the curfew start-time to 9 p.m. has brought citizens some relief.

But in a city known for its rowdy, noisy nightlife, the remaining nighttime curfew still casts an unusual, eerie silence over Cairo.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 27, 2013, on page 9.
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