Egypt's Economy Limps Along After Protests

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Shops, banks and businesses in Egypt have reopened after prolonged demonstrations against the Mubarak government. Analysts say there are tremendous losses to the country's vital tourism industry — and possibly, a huge outflow of money as people involved in corruption try to get ill-gotten gains out of the country.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Once they've gone on long enough, even historic protests become normal and people in Cairo have no choice but to try to weave them into normal life.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Shops, banks and businesses are opening after nearly two weeks of demonstrations that shut them down. People can now withdraw money, but in the larger sense some will have trouble putting money in the bank.

INSKEEP: Experts predict tremendous losses to the country's vital tourism industry. They also suspect that people who made fortunes under Hosni Mubarak's regime are moving their money out.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Cairo.

COREY FLINTOFF: Mohammad Sayed's food shop is open for business for the first time since the uprising began, and he's doing a thriving business in sandwiches and soft drinks.

Mr. MOHAMMAD SAYED (Owner, The Cook): (foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Sayed says his family lost a lot of money when the shop was closed, but he's philosophical. He says every revolution has its losses and its gains.

Mr. SAYED: (foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Now, he says, all the food supplies he needs are available and his suppliers are not gouging.

His shop, called The Cook, is offering everything at normal prices.

Nearby at the Bank of Egypt branch only about a dozen people are waiting on line to use the ATM machine.

(Soundbite of beeping)

FLINTOFF: Deputy Manager Abdul Hamid says there's a limit on what people can withdraw from the machine - only 1,000 Egyptian pounds per day or around $170. He says he favored the uprising when it first broke out, but now he's angry about the losses.

Mr. ABDUL Hamid (Deputy Manager, Bank of Egypt): It's against the Egyptian economic. You know, all the people down here, they don't have enough money for life here. The life, it has to be started again.

FLINTOFF: Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar, an economist at the Al-Ahram Foundation in Cairo, says it may take a long time for normal economic life to resume.

Mr. AHMED EL-SAYED EL-NAGGAR (Chief Economist, Al-Ahram Foundation): And, of course, the cost mainly in the sectors that are very sensitive to travels, especially tourism sector. Our income from this sector is about $10 to $15 billion dollar annually. And so you could talk about $1.1 billion monthly.

FLINTOFF: El-Naggar, a long-time critic of the government's economic policies, says there's another potentially more serious problem. He says people who gained illicit profits under the Mubarak government are now trying to get their money out of the country.

Mr. EL-NAGGAR: A lot of corrupted businessmen and corrupted politician trying to transfer their money from Egyptian pound to dollar, to euro, to Afrikaans to transfer it abroad. And so there is a big pressure on Egyptian pound in this moment.

FLINTOFF: Still, El-Naggar says he thinks it could be relatively easy to restore Egypt's economy if a new and democratic government is put into place. He says the country needs to raise its minimum wage to help bring millions of Egyptians out of desperate poverty. He also calls for a change in tax rates. Currently, Egypt's richest people pay a maximum rate of only 20 percent on their earnings, the same as the country's middle class.

The next step in resuming Egypt's economic life will be the opening of the stock market. But El-Naggar warns that the results could be catastrophic if the market is open too soon.

Mr. EL-NAGGAR: Now, if stock market opened before removing Mubarak and creating or making a new government from those people who protest against this regime, I think there will be a big collapse.

FLINTOFF: Egypt's stock market crashed after the start of the uprising, losing 16 percent over three days. El-Naggar say the main thing Egypt's economy needs before it can return to normal is transparency.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Cairo.

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