MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally, this hour, we go to Egypt for a story about life in the capital, Cairo, specifically the city's vibrant night life. Once the sun goes down, men play backgammon and smoke water pipes. Young fashionistas meet friends for midnight coffees, and families go shopping. But that could soon change. This past summer, electricity shortages left Egyptians dealing with rolling blackouts in the blistering heat. And NPR's Leila Fadel reports that the government now plans to force shops and restaurants to save energy and shutdown early.

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LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Here is Cairo, the charming, the loud, the sleepless, the blatant. Here is Cairo, echoes of whispers in the crowd and the chaos. A famous Egyptian poet's words set to music describe the feeling of this city every night. The traffic is nauseating, the lights stay on, drivers blare their horns, children laugh and play, and people live. Last year, Cairo was rated the most 24-hour city in the world. New York City trailed at number 32 in the same study. But Cairenes might soon be forced to call it a night early due to a decision by the government that would force shops to shut down at 10 p.m. and restaurants at midnight.

Om Radwan picks out a puffy winter jacket for her daughter. It's 10:30 p.m. and she holds her child's hand as she haggles with the salesman. Other women shop nearby as merchants hawk their wares.

OM RADWAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: We like the noise, the liveliness, being together, Om Radwan says. If the city shuts down early, the streets will be for thieves, and mothers like me, she says, will stay home. The Ministry of Local Development plans to implement the new rules after the start of the religious holidays later this week. But this energy-saving plan has been met with anger and defiance.

The head of the Chamber of Commerce in Cairo told a state-run newspaper the decision will further decimate the Egyptian economy with expected losses of $4.1 billion. Unemployment will rise and the already faltering tourism industry, he says, will take a hit. The chamber issued a statement calling the Ministry of Local Development's decision illegal. The minister, Ahmed Zaki Abdeen, explained the choice he made on a talk show this past week.

AHMED ZAKI ABDEEN: (Through translator) We don't have enough electricity. We don't have enough gas. I can't leave power turned on all night, and people are on the street all night. It doesn't work. There isn't enough electricity.

FADEL: For laborers, the news is a welcome change. Some work more than 16-hour days at shops with no overtime payments. For them, this change means rest. Abdel Nabi Ahmed works from 10 a.m. until after midnight every day.

ABDEL NABI AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Human beings need a mental break, he says, sitting on a plastic chair in a crowded popular market in downtown Cairo. We need calm, he says. But his co-workers laugh at the idea that the government thinks it can change Cairo. They jokingly call their boss Omar Suleiman after the notorious Mubarak-era spy chief. They're sure he won't allow the shop to close down early.

YAHIA AMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Impossible, says salesman Yahia Ahmed. No one will heed the calls. My boss wants to make money. He'll stop anyone from trying to shut him down. In the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, cafe waiters serve up coffee, juice, food and different fruit-flavored tobacco in water pipes to the 24-hour clientele. The manager scoffs at the new rule.

WAGDY HAMDY: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: No one goes to bed at 10 o'clock, says Wagdy Hamdy. This is the nature of Cairo. He points to his stylish customers, smoking water pipes across the street from the Nile. Midnight had come and gone and still the outdoor tables were full.

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FADEL: Every night, Cairo is chaotic, lively and overwhelming. If it shuts down early, most people here say it just won't be Cairo. Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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