By Reem Abdellatif
CAIRO: Tahrir Square has turned into a self-sustaining city again with food stands, clinics, hospitals, security checkpoints and tents around every corner — this time however, much of the medical and food supplies have been donated.
Still, street vendors are doing good business in the square, selling hot and cold drinks, food, flags, snacks and trinkets.
Nationwide protests demanding the ruling military council hand over power to a civilian authority built up over the week, galvanizing into mass demonstrations on Friday.
As Tahrir Square once again finds itself at the epicenter, the sit-in has rebirthed what was dubbed the Republic of Tahrir during the January uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak.
While it means booming business for street vendors, it has also highlighted the spirit of volunteerism and donations, which have flooded in worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Clashes that lasted for days, and left more than 40 dead and 2,000 injured, subsided on Friday, but during the violence, medical supplies were donated to the square’s field hospitals along with protective gear and food.
Wailing ambulances ferried the injured to the field hospitals dotted around the square, amidst a heavy cloud of potent tear gas, with Omar Makram Mosque being one of the main locations.
Hundreds of volunteers from around the city bought gas masks, protective eye gear, medical equipment, surgical supplies, as well as antiseptic medicine to the square.
“The amount of medical supplies we have now is unbelievable,” said Ahmed Gamal, one of the volunteers from the Tahrir Doctors group.
Gamal says in Omar Makram Mosque, there are supplies worth over LE 100,000, with similar estimates at other locations.
“We not only have medicine, but people have brought beds, stretchers…[now] we are asking people to focus on bringing other necessities such as food, blankets or gas masks,” he said, mainly for the people who are sitting in.
Not far from the mosque is Kasr El Dobara Church, which has also been turned into a makeshift hospital.
“Both Omar Makram Mosque and Kasr El Dobara Church have the biggest storage areas, housing medical supplies and equipment worth more than LE 150,000,” said Ahmed AbulHassan, a volunteer who took charge of Tahrir Supplies, which can also be found on twitter (@tahrirsupplies) coordinating with volunteers who wish to donate.
“Volunteers have even donated general anesthesia devices, which can cost around LE 100,000 each,” he said.
As well as individual donations, pharmacies offered discounts for medical supplies as doctors donated equipment and some companies even donated food and drinks.
Business for vendors
Street vendors selling tea, sandwiches, popcorn, snacks, bottled water and even candy are back in the square, making hundreds of pounds everyday, undeterred by the earlier violence. One memorable picture shows a man selling cotton-candy as tear gas fills the square, smoke billows from a fire behind him and protesters flee the scene.
To some, it is a great business opportunity, to others it is their way of helping.
While some are capitalizing on the situation by marking up prices — selling water for LE 3 instead of the normal LE 2.5 — others are giving discounts in order to support protesters.
One tea vendor who has been spending the night in the square over the past week told Daily News Egypt that while many others sell a cup of tea for LE 1.5, he sells it for LE 1 to “support” protesters.
“I am the only one here who sells it for LE 1 and I have the best tea,” he said.
In one day, he makes no less than LE 300. On normal days of selling tea on the corniche, for example, it takes him more than a week to earn this sum.
Nearby sandwich shops in the downtown area have also seen a bustle as hungry protesters take a break from the action to grab quick meals. The lines are long, especially around dinner time.
However, other outlets have not been as lucky. Hardees and KFC, for example, which are closer to the heart of the square, have been closed since the violence began Saturday night. Instead, outside these restaurants, makeshift hospitals and small clinics have been set up.
Shops near the square selling suitcases, clothes or electronics have been suffering unlike their neighbors selling food, pharmaceuticals and blankets. Local clothing, electronics, or leather good shops that were making little revenue before are making virtually nothing now.
Many of these shops closed as violent clashes between security forces and protesters intensified. They recall the same revenue losses they incurred when the 18-day uprising began in January.
Walking around the usually congested downtown Cairo, where the streets are lined with shops of all kind, almost 90 percent of the shops have been closed, as are some restaurants.
Business in the heart of the square, however, is not reflective of the overall economy, which has been hit by the unrest as the pound depreciates against the dollar, investors are once again wary, tourists fear the capital and the stock market fluctuates heavily.