The revolution is good for Egypt’s grocers

The revolution is good for Egypt’s grocers

I was in Cairo this week and met with many different people during my three-day stay. Let me tell you about their feelings.

Tahrir revolutionaries were generally unhappy. This weekend there is going to be a presidential election, the first ever genuine presidential election in Egypt. It is thanks to the Tahrir revolutionaries that the ballot box has finally come to Egypt. The candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood is Muhammad Morsi. Morsi and his brothers in Islam were not in Tahrir on Jan. 25, 2011. They came to the square three days later. Morsi’s rival, the retired general Ahmet Shafik, was the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak and tried in vain to suppress the Tahrir protests. So, no one from Tahrir is in the race this weekend. You can imagine that the revolutionaries are not too happy about that.

My taxi driver and the hotel staff were worrying about the decline in tourism. The highlight of Cairo’s tourism, the Egyptian Museum, is in Tahrir Square. In order to get to the museum, you have to walk through, or near, the Tahrir crowd. Tourists still prefer to avoid that. I was told however, that the situation is better in Sharm el Sheikh. The advertisements for the jewel of Egyptian tourism were telling: “600 miles from Cairo and the Tahrir square,” in other words: safe. That was also exactly how my taxi driver perceived the revolution. 

But not everybody was unhappy in Cairo. For example, producers of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) are all smiling. They are very happy with the output recovery process in 2011 after the steep decline of 2010. Fast-moving consumer goods comprise soft drinks, toiletries and groceries, and the revolution is good for these. Why? Although the decline in tourism is not good for FMCGs, people staying at home for longer definitely is. You could see that one their faces.

I was reading an English language Egyptian daily the other day. One columnist was explaining how he asked for an actress to reschedule an appointment in the early evening. “I am sorry” the actress said “that is when I prepare to watch the evening news with my family.” That seems to be Egyptians nowadays: Preferring to stay home, to munch on something and to drink soft drinks, while watching news and debate programs on TV. Of course, the dearth of police on the streets might be making nightly strolls less appealing. The current situation is making people more nervous about the near future. That is what makes the FMCG industry happy in these hard times, and it is what has brought Shafik to the fore as a “law and order” candidate.

Transformation is always difficult and painful. It is like someone telling you: “Hey, your shoes are all wrong. You are wearing the left on your right foot and the right on your left. You need to switch them.” But you have been wearing them that way for ages. You are accustomed to it. When you do put them on correctly for the first time, it will hurt. Egypt is now going through this process.

The Constitutional Court decision to practically dissolve the newly-elected Parliament over the technicalities of candidate placement is a mistake. But at least the Court ruled to go ahead with the Presidential election between Shafik and Morsi this weekend. That was the right thing to do. The ballot box is the best remedy for any political error. “But I don’t like the menu,” you say. Welcome to the Club. I have never once liked the menu of any election in Turkey, and I still vote. That is part of what democracy is about. I will talk about the other part later.