Business unusual

Waves of violent protests since the January 25 revolution have taught businesses how to adapt to mass protests, and the streets of Cairo saw many precautionary measures taken as companies from big banks to small grocery shops braced themselves for today’s mass demonstrations.

Many organizations, fearful for their staff’s safety, gave them the day off.

Mariam, who works for an advertising company, says that in addition to giving personnel time off, the administration at her office paid staff their salaries days before June 30. “Of course this is not a real holiday, we will be working from home and on call via the Internet,” she adds.

But if some businesses were able to give the day off, others couldn’t.

A number of sources within the banking sector, who asked to remain anonymous, said that branches located near protest hot spots, such as Tahrir Square and the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in Heliopolis, would be closed on Sunday. Other branches would remain open, but all the banks and the stock exchange will close on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The source added that bank management reviewed emergency plans, taking into account the speed required to transfer banking activity from one branch to another if needed, said the source.  Most banks also updated internal and external cameras to ensure better quality surveillance, responding to increased fears of violence and rioting in the day, the source continued.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) required banks to maintain cash flow for a period of not less than five working days. It issued instructions to banks nationwide to remain open on June 30, giving general managers the authority to take the decision to close down their branches based on the circumstances in their area, taking into account the safety of the banking business, customers and employees of the bank.

“CBE instructions required raising security measures, degrees of protection, safety and providing for customer demands,” the source says. “Banks have experience now in reacting to emergencies, such as secured gates, linking branches electronically in order to facilitate customer transactions and feeding ATM branches.”

On the other hand, the Cairo Chamber of Commerce announced last week that shops and stores would remain open without any interruption during June 30 demonstrations, and goods would be sold normally.

The statement issued by the chamber said that traders have vowed to open their shops and continue to sell products to support Egyptian citizens in their marches.

During a visit to one market the morning before the demonstrations, customers were in a shopping frenzy, trying to ensure they could get stock up on their basic food needs.

In the souq (vegetable market), vendor Am Ashour said that he would close his stall on Sunday. There seemed to be a general consensus at the souq that all the venders would close, and they didn’t seem to know when they would be open again.

“We will finish working for the day and will close on Sunday … we don’t know what will happen with the marches and all. And nobody will be buying anything that day anyway. Everybody has bought what they need by now,” Ashour says.

A slightly different mood prevailed at a hypermarket on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, where security measures were exaggerated. The underground garage was closed, which made parking a bit hectic.

The mall had suffered huge losses when it was robbed and vandalized during the events of January 25 2011, but despite that memory, shop managers said they wouldn’t close on Sunday.

“Maybe female employees only will be given the day off, or released from work early,” says Maissa, a shop assistant at a clothing store. She says transactions at her store have been normal so far, “but who knows what happens later on.”

Signs announcing summer sales were all over the mall, and shoppers browsed through merchandise seemingly unconcerned about the impending June 30 rallies.

“I was surprised to see the sales signs. Summer sales come on time despite everything. And I can’t help but go explore the shops to see some of the good deals,” says one shopper.

There were rumors that the popular supermarket in the mall would close starting Saturday, but management denied those reports and said activity would carry on as normal.

At the supermarket, there were several offers on all food stuffs, and customers were loading up on groceries.

While shoppers in the store had varied forecasts for June 30 and its aftermath, they all expressed fears of increased lawlessness and the security vacuum, which would be reflected in a worsening economic situation with high prices. With that in mind, many shoppers said they were stocking up on some basic goods.

Typically there is this kind of hustle at the supermarket at the beginning of every month or before the holy month of Ramadan, and today, both of those occasions have coincided with the June 30 marches.  

“Usually I buy additional quantities of food, such as milk, cheese, oil, pasta, butter gee and rice, at this time of year in preparation for the holy month of Ramadan; but this time I bought more quantities than usual out of fear of June 30,” said one shopper, who identified herself as Mrs. Amal.

“I’m afraid of not being able to go out if things deteriorated on June 30 and the days that followed, so I’m storing larger quantities of foods and frozen vegetables — enough for about 10 days, God willing, and if nothing happens we can still use this stock in Ramadan,” she adds.

The store’s cashier, Mohamed, said that they would be open on Sunday, but there would be only a minimal number of staff on shift.

“We don’t expect huge crowds on Sunday June 30 for sure, and may be for the couple of days that follow,” he speculates.


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