Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

An end to late nights?

Setting early working hours for shops might not be the open and shut case the government assumes, writes Ahmed Morsy

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Shops of downtown Cairo and open-air cafés, all of which are to close earlier than usual

Shops will close by 10pm from next month and cafés and restaurants by midnight though under the new regulations set on 11 October by the Board of Governors and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil tourist establishments will be allowed to remain open later.

"The early closing of shops will reduce their reliance on state-subsidised electricity," Trade and Industry Minister Hatem Saleh told Al-Ahram news website. The decree seeks to rationalise power consumption, aiming to save up to LE6 billion a year in electricity subsidies.

Saleh added that the decree, widely opposed by shop owners, is a "bold" move. Its success, he noted, will depend on consumers abandoning their late-night shopping habit.

Early closing for shops and restaurants was first mooted in August by Petroleum Minister Osama Kamal. Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Abdine warned of punitive fines for violators, adding that coffee shop owners who wanted to open later could apply for a licence from the Ministry of Tourism.

According to Egypt's Federation of Tourism Chambers, 1,500 restaurants with licences from the Ministry of Tourism will be exempt from the new regulations. Establishments seeking to remain open late by virtue of Ministry of Tourism licensing will find themselves liable to a 10 per cent sales tax.

"I think the new decree will quickly be judged redundant," economist Saad Hagras told Al-Ahram Weekly. "There are millions of people who start their work at night."

"The decree seeks to reduce power consumption and boost production, though a more sensible policy initiative would have been to prioritise reducing unemployment," adds Hagras. "I don't think it will be that easy to change engrained habits of late-shopping. And I wonder how people who did not respect the curfew imposed during the revolution are going to react to these new impositions."

Ahmed Abdel-Ghaffar, deputy chairman of the General Division for Petroleum Products at the Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Commerce (EFCC), believes the new regulations will cut power consumption by 40 per cent.

"We will not only rationalise the consumption of electricity -- including power hungry air conditioners -- but will reduce amounts of diesel fuel and natural gas," says Abdel-Ghaffar.

"Traffic congestion will be reduced as well as shopping time. People will get used to going home early and this will have a positive impact upon work the next day. Takings in shops will not be affected since people will still have to buy what they need."

But Tawfik Moheb, a 55-year-old shop owner, predicts his own takings will be down. "Closing at 10pm will harm profits. People have got used to go shopping late and I do not think they are going to change their habits overnight," he says.

Moheb doubts that all shop owners will abide by the decree. "There will be some shops that will not close by 10pm. I will only abide by the decree if it is implemented across the board," he adds.

In 2010 the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif attempted to regulate shop opening hours but had to back off following strong protests from shop owners.

Hamed Morsi, dean of the Faculty of Commerce at Suez University, believes it is a mistake for the decree not to have been first trailed before the public.

"The government needs to communicate the goals of decisions to the public before they are implemented. If ordinary people are convinced by the official arguments, then they will be more willing to comply," Morsi told the Weekly.

EFCC Chairman Ahmed Al-Wakil complains that the ministerial decree setting the new closing times impinges of his organisation's mandate.

"Under the chambers of commerce law amended in 2002 it is the EFCC that sets opening and closing times for shops," Al-Wakil said in a statement.

"We are not against the decree. But what we are arguing is that Egypt has 26 governorates each of which has specific characteristics that should be taken into account in deciding issues such as closing times."

"Chambers of commerce in each governorate should set opening hours," Al-Wakil's statement continued. "Some governorates are heavily dependent on tourism. In France, for instance, Paris opening hours are not the same as those in Nice and Cannes where different conditions apply."

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