Closed for the night
A life-long culture of shopping at night in Cairo may soon change, reports Ahmed Kotb
The widely accepted view that Cairo never sleeps is now being challenged by a new decision to close all shops in the city at 9pm in winter and 10pm in summer. Although the decision is not yet official, Cairo Governor Abdel-Azim Wazir was quoted as saying it will go into effect starting January 2011.
The idea of closing shops early was suggested by the Cairo Chamber of Commerce (CCC) to regulate the market and ease traffic congestion. "The market should be organised," says Amr Khedr, CCC treasurer. He stresses that the decision is vital for a more civilised look to Cairo. "Shops open and close at different times, which can ruin customers' plans," says Khedr, adding that people should be able to know the exact times during which shops operate.
Since night is considered the best time for many shop owners to do business, the idea of closing their stores before midnight seems unacceptable. "Some days, customers only come at night," says Mohamed El-Gazar, a car shop manager. Ahmed Eid, a clothing store owner, agrees that most sales take place at night and that "approximately 60 per cent of sales are conducted from 7pm until the store closes at 11pm."
Another problem that CCC believes the decision would solve is waste collection. There are constant complaints from waste management companies, according to Khedr, that they cannot do their job properly if they do not know when shops close.
Khedr also noted that if the decision to close early is taken, it will solve electricity shortage problems. According to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, shops use eight per cent of total electricity consumption. However, Aktham Abul-Ela, deputy minister of electricity and energy, strongly disagrees that closing shops at 9pm would be of any help. Abul-Ela says that increased consumption during rush hours -- two hours starting from dusk -- is what led to power outages in the summer. Rush hours, according to Abul-Ela, are from 5.30pm to 7.30pm in winter, and from 6pm to 8pm during summer.
The decision also means that the night life of Egyptians in their thousands will change drastically. Many spend their late night hours wandering around malls or gathering with friends at a coffee shop. "People should have a more organised life," says Samir Naom, a professor of sociology at Ain-Shams University. Naom praised the yet to be taken decision and said it should have been considered a long time ago, because if the decision is implemented, it will give merchants more time to spend with their families and will help consumers spend more time on family- related activities besides shopping.
Naom believes sales will not be affected as some merchants think, since customers will "adjust to the new system and start shopping in the evening instead of late at night."
Empty streets at night, however, have raised some worries over how safe Cairo's streets will be. The idea that a 24-hour city like Cairo is safe to roam at night is being challenged by Fouad Allam, former deputy manager of national security investigations. Allam believes that empty streets facilitate police work, because in a street full of people "you never know what could happen."
Khedr stated that CCC has 61 divisions that represent all sections of trade in Cairo, and that by coordinating with merchants and businessmen, the divisions approved the suggestion that shops close at 9pm, saying the time was convenient for all parties. He added that Cairo hosts 60 per cent of the nation's trade relations, "which is why it needs to be more organised."
Khedr said there will be a great deal of flexibility in the implementation of the decision. "We took into consideration the nature of Egyptian society," Khedr says, which is why CCC suggested that shops during the month of Ramadan should be allowed to open late into the night because people normally start going out at night after having Iftar at dusk.
Khedr stressed that shops in tourist sites such as Al-Hussein and Khan Al-Khalili will be able to operate freely at night. Pharmacies, restaurants and groceries will be allowed to open at any given time with no restrictions.
"We meet regularly with the governor so that the decision comes out suitable for all," say Khedr, adding that meetings stopped since the beginning of this month due to the parliamentary elections, but will resume after the poll scheduled for 28 November.