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Egypt turmoil hits Cairo nightlife

After hours spinning the latest hip-hop and trance hits, DJ Sugar loses enthusiasm, turns off the music and surveys a nightclub dance floor that has been bare for weeks.

Egypt's political turmoil has dealt a blow to nightlife in Cairo, an outwardly conservative city with a vibrant subculture of bars, nightclubs, belly dancers and all-night weddings.

"The revolution has spoiled the party," said DJ Sugar. "Many expats have left and Egyptians are spending their money on just bare necessities."

The army forbade travel after dark on 28 January as protests against President Hosni Mubarak gathered pace. When police deserted the streets and thousands of prison inmates were set free in mysterious circumstances, residents locked their doors.

Almost two months on, the curfew has been shortened to three hours–from 2 am to 5 am–but few Cairenes seem to be in party mood.

The revolutionary euphoria that brought millions onto the streets has given way to worries about money and jobs.

The economy is reeling and the government has slashed its forecasts for growth after weeks of strikes, disruption in industry, a drop in investment and an exodus of tourists.

Some foreigners who heeded embassy travel warnings and fled Egypt have not yet returned.

Many police are back on the street but rumors of night-time thuggery or morality campaigns by Islamist vigilantes–as well as some real cases of rape and muggings–are making people think twice before heading out after dark.

"My demands are simple," said DJ Sugar. "The curfew must go entirely and the Interior Ministry must bring back the police."

Leisure boat operator Nile Holding canceled its salsa evenings to play the hip-hop preferred by male party-goers because few women were turning up, said manager Hisham Ismail.

"Mostly guys only show up because girls are scared of the lack of security," he said.

Many couples have delayed marriage as most Egyptians are unaccustomed to daylight weddings, hotel event managers say.

Egyptian weddings often begin as late as 11 pm, with cars honking to serenade the newly-weds until the early hours and guests dancing until dawn.

Some clubs and bars have shifted to opening in the late afternoon.

But the policy has met with little success because many Egyptians are now working late to deal with backlogs that mounted during the protests or to scrabble for more business as the economy stutters.

"They also have to consider traffic and reaching home before curfew," said Ismail.

With fewer people to entertain, some in the industry are looking around for day jobs.

"To scrape a living, I am offering Afro braids, which is a rare service here, for both men and women," said DJ Sugar.

Going West

A belly dancer who goes by the stage name Laila has seen 15 weddings canceled.

"I don't see any weddings coming until the curfew is lifted," she said. "For now I have no back-up income so I'm traveling to the U.S. for a month to teach belly dancing."

Some struggling entertainers have taken to negotiating with Egypt's military rulers to allow customers to keep partying through the curfew.

"I had to present it as a tourism issue because I was broke and I needed cash," said Kojak, who organizes parties at one of a handful of night clubs allowed to stay open through the night.

"I had to be brave, and someone had to start it, so I built networks with the military to ensure my clients arrive home safely during the curfew," he said.

Some night clubbers are defying the curfew, seeing the prospect of an evening indoors as too mournful to contemplate.

"I feel safe now because I know it's calming down in the country," said female club-goer Rony as she sipped a cocktail and bobbed her head to the beat of trance music.

By 9 pm on a Wednesday night, she was the only woman at a nightclub in Cairo's central Garden City neighborhood.

"I'm telling people not to be scared," she said. "There are many checkpoints where the army stops you on your way home, but all they ask for is your ID and they smile."

Nightclubs in poorer areas were hit by vandals during the uprising, dealing a fatal blow to some. A row of cheap nightclubs and casinos on Haram (Pyramid) Street stands empty more than two months after they were ransacked.

Workers at El Leil (The Night) casino said thieves took LE1.5 million ($251,900), kitchen appliances and one of its main doors.

Owners of the clubs have built a brick wall topped with shards of glass to protect the buildings, which stand empty.

"There are 500 workers here, all of them jobless now. Even belly dancers now work as house maids," said casino security guard Abdel Rahim Shahata.

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