Cairo is known as the city that never sleeps. However, this maybe about to change after a cabinet decision was made a week ago to approve a proposal by the Ministry of Local Development setting the closing hours for shops, workshops, restaurants and cafés.
Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad confirmed the decision was discussed and a consensus was reached after it is was revised by the parties responsible for implementing it.The cabinet has taken into consideration the type of activity of the shop, whether it is in a touristic governorate and the time of year.
According to the decision, shops will close at 10pm in winter and 11pm in summer. They will open an hour longer during weekends. Restaurants and cafés will open to 12am in winter and 1am in summer. Hours will be longer in tourist cities. Workshops like car repairs will be closing at 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer so that they do not disturb people living nearby. Pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets will be exempted from the decision.
Saad added that the bill was presented by the Ministry of Local Development after a community dialogue and after discussing it with commercial chambers and other concerned parties. Covid-19 played a huge role behind the decision.
For years, the government had been trying to impose closure hours on shops without much success; the decision was always met with strong opposition. Only this year, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, was the government able to impose strict closing hours as part of the measures taken to contain the spread of the virus.
At first, shops could only open until 5pm. Later those hours were extended until 10pm with the lifting of the restriction on the movement of individuals.“The new closing hours will not be a big deal for me since all my customers come in the afternoon anyway, like school children and employees who buy juice after work; nobody comes at night,” said a juice shop owner in Boulaq Abul-Ela.
Noha Mahmoud, who lives in a busy commercial area, is happy with the decision. She wants some peace and quiet in her neighbourhood. She said she only realised how much noise shops were causing when they started closing early during the coronavirus quarantine. She does not think they will be losing many customers, especially since the new closing hours are not much different than the hours already in place because of the coronavirus. Since restrictions were lifted on the movement of people in the summer, shops could stay open until 10pm.
Mahmoud said stores are not getting many customers anyway, “maybe one every hour, so it would mean only one customer less here,” she said, adding that the shops “need help with their financial burdens, a sort of a tax break or bill instalment.”In the upper middle class area of Mohandessin, Mohamed Al-Fouli, owner of a shoe store, has been expressing his concerns after hearing news of the new decision.
He is worried that the early closing hours will mean customers will not have time to go shopping, especially if they work. Al-Fouli said he understood that closing early was a decision that would save energy.
As Al-Fouli was talking to Al-Ahram Weekly only one customer came in and quickly walked out after asking about the price of a pair of shoes.“I have to pay my workers the same salaries, though they will be working less time, since they have their own household obligations. I also have my own obligations like taxes, electricity bills, and the rent.
If I cannot meet my financial obligations I would either have to lay off some of my employees or close down altogether,” he says.However, Mustafa Abdel Aal, owner of a cloth shop in Dokki, is not worried. Instead of opening late in the afternoon, as has been the custom with shops, he said they should open earlier in the morning. “It just needs some getting used to,” he said.Board member of the Giza Chamber of Commerce Ahmed Etabi says that the decision has been issued despite some reservations from some shop owners.
“I think it is a sound decision because it will save electricity.” He too said that the idea was not new and that it was only “a matter of time until shop owners are convinced,” he says.Al-Fouli said he could be better off if they could open until midnight because he does not get any customers before 3pm in the afternoon or later in the evening. In the meantime, he wants the government to help shop owners out by giving tax breaks given the current coronavirus situation in which not that many customers come anyway.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly