In an attempt to spur the local economy from within, 16 December was dubbed “Buy Egyptian Day” by various business and government officials. Shops offered 5 to 10 percent off Egyptian-made goods, from fine men’s ties to furniture and rugs.
But it’s unlikely that one day of asking Egyptians to “buy local” will have much effect on Egypt’s badly wounded economy. Some say Egyptians are giving their money the same corrupt monopolistic businesses that thrived under Hosni Mubarak.
“How can we say ‘Buy Egyptian’ when Egyptian companies take 30 or 40 percent of profits after a product comes out of Egyptian factories, while paying the workers little or nothing?” said Rada Issa, an economic analyst.
Issa said the campaign was designed by the media and wealthy businesspeople to raise prices and secure monopolistic power.
“This campaign is supporting wealthy businessmen, not Egypt,” he said.
But several shop owners and employees in Mohandiseen saw the initiative as too good of a promotion to last just one day.
“I only wish it was for a longer period of time,” said Sami Mohamed, manager of a menswear store in Mohandiseen. The shop’s windows were plastered with ads promising discounts on suits and formal men’s clothing.
“It’s a good thing for the economy, and most people who have come in today know about it. If they didn’t, they saw the signs advertising the discounts and were happy to take part,” he said.
The initiative has been picked up by companies ranging from EgyptAir to Makro, a supermarket with outlets outside of Cairo, to Al-Kasry furniture, purveyor of gilded baroque style furniture in Mohandiseen.
It has been billed as a way to jumpstart the Egyptian economy and challenge the opinion that foreign products are of higher quality than those made in Egypt.
Galal al-Zorba, president of the Manufacturers Union, called the initiative, “A positive measure in the shadow of the hard circumstances that will support domestic production.”
In an editorial in the American University in Cairo’s publication Caravan, economist Ismail Ayad wrote that the initiative had the power to restore Egyptian pride in domestic merchandise and end the practice of companies selling inferior products locally while exporting those of higher quality.
“Egyptians don’t see the best that our country has to offer, and thus an already psychologically ingrained inferiority complex comes out,” he said. “We need to show Egyptian companies that not only do we deserve their best, but it is also more profitable them to cater to the local market.”
Newspaper advertisements issued on Friday showed three hands — black, white and red, the colors of the Egyptian flag — with the slogan, “My hand in your hand, we’ll buy Egypt.”
Tamara Saad Eddin, owner of Nevin Altmann, a newly-opened shop in Zamalek that sells goods hand crafted by Egyptian women who work from home, said the idea was particularly appropriate for raising awareness about her shop and the good it does.
“Customers are coming in and asking more questions: ‘Where does this come from? How is it made?’” she said. “We’re tiny, so it’s good to know that people care.”
But the movement has been criticized by some as supporting the large companies that helped cause the country’s current economic problems while bypassing the factory workers, small storeowners and fruit sellers who have been hurt most by Mubarak’s economic policy and the recent downturn.
“The economy itself is broken,” said Issa. “This campaign will not help anything. They are making fools of us.”
Um Samieh sells roasted sweet potatoes and corn on Mohandiseen’s main thoroughfare, not far from a menswear store offering the promotion. She said she hadn’t noticed more people buying roasted corn over bags of chips at kiosks on Friday.
“I know nothing about it, and I don’t understand it,” she said. “But it sounds like something for the upper class, the people who have money. As for us, me and my six children, we live in the dirt and don’t eat chicken and meat, but we have enough, God help us.”