Egypt reopens for business

Banks and tourist attractions reopen after protests

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Egypt edged closer to normality yesterday, as famous tourist attractions reopened for the first time since the end of political turmoil which felled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Banks opened after being closed for a week following strikes by public sector employees, and long queues of customers waited to get at their savings. Bankers said they hoped the stock market would open as early as Tuesday.

Currency traders said that Egypt’s pound dipped slightly against the dollar after increased selling, and that with the banks reopening, an increase in capital flight could not be ruled out.

Egypt’s military rulers warned against strikes last week in an effort to get the economy moving again, after workers in many enterprises walked away and demanded higher wages. Pockets of protesters remained in some parts of the capital on Sunday however.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the famous Pyramids were two attractions opened for the first time in three weeks, since the start of street violence. Egypt’s tourist sector is the top generator of foreign currency, and Egypt’s democratic revolutionaries have begun a campaign to bring tourists back. “Welcome back to the free Egypt” read signs in many languages handed out at a celebratory march on Friday.

Attempting to placate pro-democracy reformers who want swift change, the military said at the weekend constitutional changes paving the way for elections in six months should be ready soon and the hated emergency law, which gives police nearly unlimited powers to arrest and imprison, would be lifted before the polls.

However, many Cairenes complained of the opposite problem – that following the protests the police in the capital have all but disappeared. “There is more crime, more harassment of women, less order” said Ahmed, a tea shop owner in the Seyida Zeynab neighbourhood of Cairo on Sunday. “We don’t feel safe.”

Egypt’s Supreme Military Council faced its first major foreign policy decision in whether to allow two Iranian naval vessels to sail through the Suez Canal, a step which Israel strongly opposes. The Council approved the passage, scheduled for Monday.

In a sign of political liberalisation, a court over the weekend approved a new political party that had sought a licence for 15 years, making it the first to be recognised since Mubarak’s overthrow.

The Wasat Party (Centre Party), set up by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, had tried to gain an official licence four times since 1996, but each time its application was rejected by a political parties committee chaired by a leading member of the ruling party, a procedure that stifled opposition.

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