New Law in Egypt Hopes to Turn the Lights Out by Midnight

If you have a craving for coffee in the middle of the night in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, it’s not difficult to find a café that’s open 24/7. The glare of light from the shops downtown fills the street well into the early hours; taxis roam the streets through the darkness, looking for customers to transport through Cairo’s nocturnal streets.

But all this is set to change before the end of the year when the Egyptian government bring in a new law to curb Cairo’s nightlife. Instead of being open until the small hours, in some cases all hours, the new decree requires shops to shut at 10pm and cafes and restaurants at midnight.

The new measure is a consequence of Egypt’s energy predicament; it’s a country suffering from a damaged economy and fuel shortages. The reason for the crisis, the government say, is that electric cables were stolen in the midst of Egypt’s security vacuum; the soaring temperatures meant that energy was overused.

Reaching its peak in the summer, this crisis led to power cuts two or three times a day; at worst the blackouts lasted for days on end. No air conditioning, fans or way to keep food fresh made for unbearable living conditions.

Whilst the law aims to ease this discomfort, workers across all sectors – angry shopkeepers, tourism workers and huge corporations – believe that it will be detrimental to their businesses. They argue that any money saved in terms of energy will be offset by the loss of income they will suffer without the revenue reaped from Cairo’s all-night culture. Unemployment is already high, and the law will mean many people who work through the night will lose their jobs.

The lure of Cairo’s all-night scene has long attracted both Western and Arab tourists to the city. High temperatures in the capital mean that people often don’t leave their homes until late in the evening. Many wish to avoid shopping in daylight hours when they can get stuck in traffic for hours on the hot and busy streets.

Restricting businesses is a particularly sore point following the revolution, which has meant that trade, and therefore profit, has already plummeted considerably. Egypt’s image as an unstable region has deterred many tourists from travelling to see its ancient wonders.

For those who wish to continue nocturnal trading, a tourist establishment licence is available. But at $10,000 – $25,000, it is not an affordable item for many. The permit risks dividing society even further as establishments aimed at the wealthy are the most likely to acquire them.

This is not a new problem for Egypt; under Mubarak, power cuts in the summer also occurred, albeit not as often. As a result, some citizens say the problem lies with the inexperience of the new government. Others disagree, and feel that these people are trying to turn them against President Mohamed Morsi.

Many believe that the new law is a form of social control. One thing is certain, though: with eighteen million people, all used to a sleepless city, turning the lights out at midnight isn’t going to be easy.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Egypt