Egyptians seeking to buy new clothes and traditional deserts and gifts for Eid celebrations are reeling at the high price tags.
As the Eid holiday approaches in Egypt, the streets of downtown Cairo are bustling after sundown with families shopping for new clothes, a gift traditionally given over the holiday.
But as Egyptians continue to struggle with prices that were already rising before the Egyptian revolution dealt a body blow to the economy, the financial obligations of tradition are ever more difficult to carry out.
With the holy month of Ramadan coming to a close, the three day Eid holiday presents Egyptians with a respite and reward for those who observed the one month daytime fast.
But the gift giving and buying of seasonal deserts like the powdered sugar topped ‘kahk’ biscuits is burning holes in Egyptians’ pockets at a time when few can afford it.
Omar Mustafa, who works in a clothing shop in downtown Cairo, says that unlike last year, a measure of political stability following the inauguration of President Mohamed Mursi has led to an upswing in people visiting shops.
“There were less people shopping last Eid, but now it’s better due to the country’s circumstances, with the President having taken over and the country has stabilized, and the economic situation is better and Ministers have been appointed. So, thank God, the situation has improved,” he said.
But while potential customers may be out in force on the capita’s busy shopping streets, many say they are stretching the limits of their budgets.
Egypt’s economy has taken a severe downturn since the fall of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak to a popular uprising in February 2011.
The country’s foreign reserves began a steep decline due to the political and economic turmoil and led the central bank to start selling dollars to prop up the country’s pound.
Political unrest has chased away tourists and foreign investors and prompted government employees to strike for higher wages.
The decline has hit Egyptians, many of whom were already struggling financially, hard.
“Prices have gone through the roof. Honestly. What are people supposed to do? With all of the expenses for the house, and for Eid, and for schools -- how are people supposed to pay for all of that? It's a shame,” said one woman, who gave her name as Nagwa.
Not far from the din of downtown Cairo’s shopping district, the desert shops of the working class neighborhood of Seyyeda Zeinab are struggling to stay afloat.
The shelves of the Damascene Palace store are piled high with kahk and other traditional deserts but the customers are few and far between.
Sabah says that she has come to shop, but has found prices to be prohibitively high.
“No, I can't buy anything because of the rise in prices I can't buy anything. Last year things were easier than this year. This year there's severe rise in prices and there's no money,” she said.
The tradition of eating kahk, a cookie doused in copious amounts of powdered sugar, stretches far back into Egyptian history, with some saying the biscuits originate in the times of the Pharaohs.
Egypt is known for its unique Ramadan traditions, such as hanging ‘fawanees’, or brass lanterns with colorful stained glass outside during the holy month. Ramadan without fawanees of kahk is just not the same for most Egyptians.
But shop owner Ala al-Din Mohamed Hassan says that business is down to a crawl, and as strong as tradition is, people are just not buying.
That means less deserts are being produced, he says, and if things continue this way, he and many others will have to close their doors.
“There are goods, but no-one to buy them. So why should we produce anything? And therefore, I would have to let my employees go, because they are not earning any money. And I would have to leave this shop because the rent is going to be very high for me. No-one is buying.
Everyone is afraid to spend money. People are afraid about tomorrow, about what will come. There is no hope for tomorrow. If they had hope they would spend money. And that's not just for our small shop, that's for the big companies as well. Everyone is afraid,” he said.
The coming Eid holiday will offer a welcome break for many Egyptians from Egypt’s unrelenting economic and political turmoil. But even the holidays bring with them new burdens, and this year more than most, Egyptians are feeling the pressure of keeping their traditions alive.