afrol News, 6 February - Banks reopened in Egypt today for the first time since the unrest started in a government attempt to display a return to normality. But central Cairo is again filling up with protesters demanding change.
"I'm in Tahrir. Still lively as ever. street art spells out 'leave' in Arabic and 'Go' in English," journalist Sharif Kouddous reports from the central Cairo square today. Indeed, pro-democracy protesters are streaming into the square, but not in the numbers as on Friday. Concerts and other events are planned for the whole afternoon and evening.
In Egypt's second city Alexandria, where up to a million participated in the Friday mass protest, thousands of protesters are now gathering. Numbers here are fewer, but the remaining protesters are more determined, fuelled by a newly released video showing a boy being shot by police in central Alexandria a few days ago.
Protesters in Cairo and Alexandria keep repeating their mantra; that President Hosni Mubarak must step down before any negotiations about political transition in Egypt can start.
Protesters in the streets however had to register a small defeat today, as the country's major opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, entered into negotiations with Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman. The illegalised Brotherhood yesterday was split on whether to negotiate with government, but was in the end faced with the loss of momentum of the protest movement, gripping its chance to get government recognition.
At the same time, government is doing everything in its power to display normality in face of the reduced numbers of protesters. In Alexandria, public transports are back in place and traffic is running close to normal.
In Cairo, traffic is normalising except for a minor zone around Tahrir Square. The key Qasr El Nil Bridge, crossing the Nile
The Qasr El Nil Bridge, leading to Cairo's Tahrir Square, today was reopened for traffic
to the Tahrir area, today was more or less reopened for traffic after having been blocked by barricades for days. The army yesterday started moving barricades put up by protesters on Wednesday and Thursday.
As the most important signal, banks were ordered to reopen today after having been closed for over one week due to the unrest. Normal citizens will welcome the move, as they have been unable to withdraw cash since the protests started.
The reopening of banks will ease the restoring of normal trade all over Egypt, with shops and businesses being able to return to normality. More people will be able to go back to work, leaving fewer in the streets to protest.
While the move is an important display of normality, Egypt's economy however is far from normal these days. It is estimated that the political crisis has cost Egypt around US$ 3.1 billion since the protest movement started on 25 January.
Especially the tourism sector is hard hit and will remain so for a longer time. The Red Sea resorts Sharm-el-Sheikh and Hurghada have been mostly evacuated. Famous excursion sites such as Luxor and Giza are no-go zones for the few remaining tourists.
Egyptian state TV's repeated anti-foreigner reporting has led to widespread attacks on everybody looking non-Egyptian, especially in Cairo and Alexandria and will contribute to a long-time negative effect on tourism to these two major cities.
European charter companies meanwhile mostly have cancelled all planned trips to Egypt until March or April. Unemployment therefore is foreseen to continue to grow as long as the political impasse is maintained.
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