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Night Scenes from Post-Curfew Cairo - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Egyptian army forces searching vehicles at a check point during curfew in Heliopolis district, Cairo, Egypt. (EPA/KHALED ELFIQI)

Egyptian army forces searching vehicles at a check point during curfew in Heliopolis district, Cairo, Egypt. (EPA/KHALED ELFIQI)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptians bid farewell to the nightly curfew on Friday with celebrations reminiscent of Eid. The curfew was initially imposed by the military-backed interim government following nationwide protests and clashes against the backdrop of the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. Four months later, Egyptians are keen to see a return to normalcy.

Hurrying out to Cairo’s famous coffee shops, Egyptians stayed out until the early hours of the morning. Historical districts of the capital, such as El-Husein and Sayeda Zainab, saw the return of night-time crowds thronging the highways following the three-month-long curfew. The amusements on Giza’s Haram Street came to life again, and the doors of many coffee houses donned Egyptian flags and banners in support of the country’s new regime.

The celebrations were full of the playful sense of humor for which Egyptians are renowned. On social media, activists left their own farewell messages to the curfew. One wrote: “It’s still early, Curfew!” parodying a well-known song played during Ramadan.

One worker in a large coffee shop in downtown Cairo caught the attention of his customers by wrapping an Egyptian flag around his waist and gracefully swaying a tray of drinks to the rhythm of a pro-army song. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “tonight’s another Eid . . . our situation was really stagnant,” in reference to the muted celebrations of Eid Al-Adha and Eid Al-Fitr due to the curfew and state of tension in the country.

Sayed, a young man in his early twenties, added: “I have a degree in engineering—but this coffee shop is where I earn a living. I went all around the city looking for a suitable job.”

Egyptians have made an art of rebelling against the curfew and coming up with a variety of ways to break it. Cafes and shops in the towns surrounding Cairo did their best to work within the confines of the nightly curfew.

Adel, the owner of a small coffee shop in Sixth of October City, said: “In the first days of the curfew I was afraid—mainly of police raids and the possibility that my coffee shop might be closed. But as time went on, I felt that things were more or less safe, so I carried on opening at the usual times. I was very cautious—and this was reflected in the number of customers, which in the beginning was very small. They wouldn’t stay in the coffee shop for long and would often take their orders away with them.”

Asharq Al-Awsat asked him about a large banner hanging above the shop offering all orders for half price. He said: “This is just a small joke to celebrate the lifting of the curfew.”

At this point, one customer entered the coffee shop and congratulated Adel on the lifting of the curfew. Smiling and drawing attention to the bustling coffee shop around him, Adel said: “Tonight, I’m going to deliver orders for free! We were really tired of the curfew. The whole country was tired of it. The people who are demonstrating over nothing must understand that what’s past is past. They must look to others and to the interests of the country in a realistic manner.”

The coffee shop owner said: “I wish that the officials understand that people cannot be defined by their political or partisan beliefs, or their affiliation to any doctrine. People are social beings and that is what they should pay attention to. They should pay attention to health care, education and culture; this is the foundation for any success.”

On Shihab El-Shaheer Street in central Cairo’s Mohandeseen district, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with a young woman working on a Ful Medames cart. The traditional Egyptian meal, made from fava beans, is a staple of Egyptian culture, and night-time trade to passing cars were severely affected by the curfew.

She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I’m happy the curfew’s gone. I can now stand here and sell large quantities of Ful. People love it.”

“But tomorrow there will be demonstrations,” she warned.

The curfew did not just have an effect on food services; it also affected Cairo’s taxi drivers.

Taxi driver Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I’ve been a taxi driver for 30 years, but since the streets started to suffer from overcrowding and traffic jams, I began to work only at night. I can’t take working during the day, so throughout most of the curfew I stayed at home, without work. Today, with the lifting of the curfew, I’m the happiest of people. Working at night is calming—the world is peaceful, and my clients are in a quiet mood too.”

He continued: “I like the army, and respected the curfew. If everyone in the country respected the law, then our country would be the best.”