Lack of tourists hurts shops in famed Cairo bazaar

Shops catering to tourists in the Egyptian capital's famed Khan al-Khalili bazaar have been hard hit by the anti-regime protests that curbed the number of visitors.

Almost anything - from plush camels and replicas of King Tut's gold funerary mask to spices, clothes and jewellery - can be found in shops that line the market's winding, grey cobblestone streets.

But while the market is bustling with Egyptians, business has been bad for shops stocked with souveniers. As one worker dryly noted, Egyptians never buy toy pyramids, since they can see real ones any time.

"I opened at 10 am. Until now, there were no sales, no money," Ahmed Zafan, 31, said late one afternoon at the shop where he works, which is stocked with T-shirts, scarves and miniature pyramids among other items.

"It's bad, so bad," he said, adding that business has fallen 95 percent compared to before the 18-day wave of popular protests that brought president Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule to an end.

But Zafan said he joined the protests that toppled Mubarak on February 11 and inspired other uprisings in the Arab world, most notably - and violently - this week in Libya.

"I slept in Tahrir Square for four days," he said, referring to epicentre of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

"Before the revolution, there was good business, there was tourism," said Osama Marzouk, 31, who works at a shop selling T-shirts in Khan al-Khalili, estimating that business had fallen 90 percent.

But he too backed the revolution, saying he spent five days in Tahrir.

"After the revolution, it is much better," Marzouk said. "There is freedom."

These days, business is "bad, very bad, but I hope, God willing, that after one month, two months, it will be nice," said Mohammed Abdullah, 27, who works in a shop selling everything from ancient Egyptian-style statues to lamps.

"Now, it's nothing," he said when asked about tourist numbers.

He said he liked Mubarak, but not his government, and that he supported Egypt's new government, which is now headed by a military junta.

"The big government before - that was very bad," Abdullah said, singling out the widely hated former interior minister Habib al-Adly and Mubarak's wife Suzanne for criticism.

Felipe Otano and his wife and daughter were among the few foreigners who could be found in Khan al-Khalili.

"A lot of expatriates left" during the demonstrations, when Mubarak supporters attacked some foreigners, especially journalists, said Otano, a 55-year-old Argentine who lives in Egypt with his family.

But now "it's very safe, and people should come back," he said.

Echoing a move by tour guides at the Great Pyramids, Khan al-Khalili employees held a demonstration last weekend say that "we need the tourists to come back," said Mohammed Darwish, 29, who works in the same shop as Abdullah.

"Our business is tourists," Darwish said. "We need money, and before the money, we need tourists - we need to work like before."

Workers' estimates of the size of the demonstration varied, but most said it involved 200 or more people.

Demonstrators chanted "we love the Italians, we love the Spanish, we love the French, we love the Americans," said Ahmed, 25, who works at a restaurant where the protest was held.

"We like the January 25 guys," Ahmed said, referring to the day protests against Mubarak erupted and the revolt named after the date. But now, he added, "We need money."

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