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Caged in

Selma Köhn, Cairo / sadAugust 25, 2013

A curfew in many Egyptian cities, put in place for safety reasons, has left many feeling locked up. Daily life is far from normal, but it has to go on. Here's how some people are trying to cope.

An elderly Egyptian woman walks in a market in Cairo (Photo: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)
Image: Marwan Naamani/AFP/GettyImages

Egypt is under martial law. A curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. is supposed to help the army bring the country's tense situation under control. Until this past Saturday (24.08.2013), the lockdown started every night at 7 p.m. This now only applies on Fridays, when most protests take place.

Commander-in-Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi put the curfew in place after clearing the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps at Nahda Square and Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on August 14, when a fierce gun battle took place between the army and Muslim Brothers.

In almost all of Egypt's cities, people are allowed onto the streets only in the daytime. But the curfew, intended to calm the political situation, is having other effects on the lives of typically sociable Egyptians. For example, people have to struggle through dense traffic in order to be home before the curfew hour. While some try to take advantage of the lockdown time, others are suffering, and hoping that the state of emergency will soon be lifted.

Crowded street in Cairo's al-Hussein district (Photo: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)
Egypt's typically lively streets are unusually quietImage: Marwan Naamani/AFP/GettyImages

Social life is affected

"Nothing stands in the way of beauty," says Hanan Moselhy. "No revolution, no Muslim Brothers - and also no protest marches," adds the 36-year-old, who works as a personnel manager at a leading regional retail firm. She has to present a well-groomed image, so she still goes to her weekly manicure and pedicure sessions.

Moselhy also continues to meet with friends and colleagues, despite the current political circumstances in Egypt. She also does some telecommuting, with emails and conference calls from home. She wants to keep busy, and for her life to be as normal as possible.

But the curfew does occasionally thwart her plans. "My social life is really suffering at the moment," says Moselhy, who lives with her parents in the posh Tagamo district on the outskirts of Cairo. "On weekends I can only meet with my friends during the daytime. Staying at home every night is boring. So I go to sleep early."

Mahmoud Gomaa (Photo: privat)
Mahmoud Gomaa: Spanish instead of sportsImage: privat

Mahmoud Gomaa is trying to be productive during the enforced time out. "I've started learning Spanish," he says. He likes to stay busy, and is normally out and about from early morning until after midnight.

Throughout the political upheaval, the 30-year-old has continued to work full-time in his job as a specialist for an information technology company. He liked to balance out his stressful job by playing a lot of sports after work, but that's become impossible.

Gomaa is trying to think of other ways of releasing his pent-up energy, like traveling somewhere in Egypt where there is no curfew - such as the Red Sea.

'Trouble and distress'

Abir Hassan lives together with her husband and three children in a small side street not far from Tahrir Square. The 38-year-old and her husband run a small auto shop, which they've had to temporarily close.

"We're really suffering in this situation," says Hassan, who is veiled from head to toe. "We're surviving the days with trouble and distress. But, God willing, it will get better soon," she adds. She's been working providing domestic help to wealthier families, to at least earn a bit of money in the meantime.

But Hassan's greatest worry is something else altogether. "I'm afraid for my children and my husband," she said. "I immediately go into a panic if my husband is late coming home." When that happens, she heads out looking for him - curfew or no curfew.

Ali Hussein sitting in his taxi (Photo: Selma Köhn)
Taxi driver Ali Hussein has been earning less because of the curfewImage: Selma Köhn

At the beginning of September, school starts again - and like many mothers, Hassan is unsure how to proceed. "I don't know if I can send my children to school. I'm afraid of attacks that could happen any time," she says.

Hassan blames the Muslim Brotherhood for the country's difficulties. And regardless of the losses she and her family have suffered, she believes the army's curfew is the right move to bring back law and order.

Uncertain times

Taxi driver Hussein Ali Hussein trusts el-Sisi as a ruler. "I think that el-Sisi should become president," he says. Due to the political situation and the curfew, he's only been earning about a quarter of what he typically would.

"I barely make enough to support our household, and don't know anymore what I can do," says the 43-year-old, who lives with his wife and son in Abedeen, a neighborhood in the heart of Cairo. They can't afford to do any activities, and spend their evenings mostly watching television.

"The future is so uncertain," says Hussein, gazing sadly out of the window of his taxi.