Curfews suck, whether you’re a teenager, on parole, or especially if you’re living in Cairo.
Due to the political instability over the past few months the Egyptian government has imposed a curfew on the city of Cairo. From 6 pm until 6 am, no one may be out on the streets of Cairo. This measure was taken to curb the number of protests that have occurred, particularly on Fridays. Friday is a holy day for muslims, and many go to protest after attending prayers in a mosque.
Why is a curfew so devastating to the economy and people? you ask. Well, Egypt in the summer is a hot place; too hot to do many things during the day. To beat the heat most Egyptians become somewhat nocturnal in the summers, going out to dinner at 9 or 10 and staying out until the wee hours. A curfew means that people cannot go out and socialize, restaurants and cafes that rely on evening business are like ghost towns. No one is making money, and everyone is grumpy.
Curfew at 6pm doesn’t mean that you can be out until 6pm, though. It means you have to plan your day carefully, and very far in advance. For instance, you need to go grocery shopping for your family. You’ll have to go before noon, because the shops will be mobbed by two. All the shops will close at 4pm to allow staff the time needed to clean up and get home. Taxi drivers start heading home around 5 or 5:30, and if you can’t get a taxi, you have no choice but to walk home, risking being arrested for breaking curfew. So, you and a million other Cairenes are heading to the markets and grocery stores praying you get there before they decide to close.
Thankfully, the government realized that a 6pm curfew was incredibly damaging to the economy and the people and they pushed the curfew back to 9pm – 6am, except Fridays, when it is still 6 pm – 6 am.
Yet, I tried to go to Carrefour the day before yesterday at 6:30pm, and the staff were already rolling down the security gate. Curfew may not be until 9pm, but all of the workers still need to restock, clean, clock-out, and go home. Some of the workers may live as far as an hour away… Nothing to do about it but go home and try again another day.
Extending the curfew until 9 pm alleviates some of this annoyance, but not all. On the other side of the day, no one can leave their homes until 6 am. This poses a problems for schools, which are scheduled to begin on September 1st. At my school, we have 8 busses to pick up our students, who live in many different parts of Cairo. Some children have rides as long as an hour to get to school by 8am. These busses require drivers and matrons,* who must be on the bus and ready to go get students before 6 am. But staff can’t be on the bus by 6 am if they can’t leave their own houses before 6 am. You with me so far?
This means that school cannot start on time. The Egyptian government decreed that schools must push back their start dates from September 1st to September 21st. A loss of three weeks would mean Saturday classes and long days, a fate that no one wants. All of the local international schools got together to petition the government to open earlier, say the 8th. No luck, any school opening earlier would be breaking the law and subject to serious consequences. Yikes.
Eventually a compromise was reached and school will officially begin on September 14th. Perhaps the curfew will be lifted by then as well.
So what do we do in the meantime? Well, we are going to participate in a Lock-In! A local club is sponsoring an event for teachers this weekend, where we will be locked in to the facility from 9pm until 6am the following day. Drinks will be had, games will be played, friends will be made, it’s going to be great.
But, it would be nice to see Cairo as it is meant to be seen: as a thriving city with a vibrant nightlife that brings color and life to the everyday.
*a matron is a local woman who rides the bus with the children. She will use a cell phone to call parents and let them know the bus is around the corner, and also help keep order on the bus.