A man leaves a looted mall in Cairo this week. At stores that are still open… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Cairo — Fahim Sayed walked Cairo's streets Wednesday, watching as government supporters charged protesters with rocks and then darted back, because he had nothing better to do.
To gather the latest news or just to keep his mind busy, the 30-year-old waiter with slicked back hair and a striped shirt strolled by yellow tanks and soldiers with bayonets. He passed neighborhood watchmen waving machetes to ward off strangers.
Sayed's bosses at the Kempinski hotel have told him to stay away at least until the crisis ends between supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and anti-government protesters. He cannot find other work.
"I need to get a solution," Sayed said, cupping his laminated identification card from the hotel.
Sayed and others say the grueling confrontation in central Cairo, which has lasted more than a week, has worsened Egypt's already severe economic pressures. Many residents were frustrated by long bread lines yielding smaller portions and worried about finding money for reasons including lost jobs, closed banks and nonfunctioning ATMs, though some cash machines began working again Wednesday.
Sayed estimated that he had enough money to get him through the next month, with about half going to an apartment he shares with his parents. He figures that they can eat vegetables and rice, but no meat; it's too expensive.
"Let the army go and let the police take care of things and hit the protesters," Sayed said with a smile. "When Mubarak takes care of us, I can find food."
In the working-class neighborhood of El Helmeya, Hussein Hindawi, a state oil company employee, said he was hoarding his money at home and waiting for the banks to open. Hindawi, a barrel-chested man with a touch of gray in his hair, said he had grown irritated at the deterioration in the quality of life in the last week. The bread lines take too long now and the bread is smaller, and if Hindawi's friend the baker tries to bring him to the front, people yell at him.
"They start fighting and asking, 'Where do you think you are going?' " Hindawi said.
Just south of Tahrir Square, a tank and a metal barricade blocked a crowd of pro-Mubarak demonstrators. They flashed victory signs in the air, but one man, named Ayman, was trying to be invisible. He slid up to the United Bank ATM and punched in his digits. No money came out and the machine screen apologized for the inconveniences. At the next bank over, the ATM's glass screen had been smashed with a rock and wires dangled out.
"The store owners are using this situation to gouge us," Ayman said, complaining about the price of rice and cooking oil.
He had come to this ATM for six straight days and still there was no cash or his monthly salary transfer from his job as a security guard. He and his parents were buying less food. He knows he will have little money left when he pays his February rent.
"I support Mubarak staying until the next election, and that's it," he said. "We are sitting here not working and not getting paid."
Special correspondent Doha al Zohairy in Cairo contributed to this report.