CAIRO — Egypt’s capital prides itself on being a city that never sleeps, with crowds filling cafes and shops open until the small hours. So the government is facing a backlash from businesses and the public as it vows to impose new nationwide rules closing stores and restaurants early.
Officials say the step is necessary to conserve electricity in a nation buckling under economic crisis and fuel shortages.
But the decision has a strong undercurrent of social control: A desire by secular conservatives and Islamists alike to tame a population they see as too unruly, especially in a post-revolution atmosphere of strikes, protests and relentless demands on a beleaguered government.
Simply put, officials say, Egyptians should stop thinking they can do whatever they want, go to sleep early and work in the morning.
“Egyptian life has turned nocturnal. Egypt should not be a nocturnal state, but a morning state like all countries,” Legal Affairs Minister Mohammed Mahsoub told reporters. “Energy, endeavor, labor and working hard should be the foundation.”
FIGHT FOR PSYCHE
Under the new rules, shops would be required to close at 10 p.m. and restaurants and cafes at midnight. Businesses that have a tourism license — which comes at a fee — would be exempted, meaning that most bars and upscale restaurants would stay open later.
Violators would face a fine and, if they persist, closure.
But many are furious over what they see as an outright violation of the nation’s psyche.
The proposed regulation has dominated the national conversation for weeks. Opponents, including chambers of commerce around the country, warn that it will damage an already suffering economy.
Those who work night shifts will lose their jobs and, with Egyptians unable to shop late, sales will be stifled and small businesses will be forced to lay off workers, they say.
Others argue that it is biased against the poor, given that venues catering to rich Egyptians will be able to get tourist licenses at a time when small business owners are struggling to make ends meet because of the economic crisis.
CAN IT BE DONE?
Opponents argue it will be virtually impossible to enforce.
Cairo, home to an estimated 18 million people, has hundreds of thousands of small businesses found on almost every street, alley and lane.
Some, like eateries, juice shops and pharmacies, never close. Night-owl Egyptians are accustomed to being able to buy virtually anything, whiling away the time at a coffee shop or even get a haircut at any time of night.
Some warn that penalties could even spark violence.