Cairo’s new normal: Protests spawn a world of walls and barricades

Jared Malsin reports: Ramadan Romih, the heavyset manager of the White House Net, an Internet café up the street from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, sat on a chair on the sidewalk outside his shop, smoking a large tobacco water pipe. He hasn’t had many customers recently, he says, because of the high concrete wall blocking the street next to his shop. The wall was built by the Egyptian government this past November to ward off demonstrators from nearby Tahrir Square away from the embassy.

Romih, 41, commutes downtown from a working-class neighborhood near the pyramids. His shop ordinarily depends on foot traffic from the bustling business districts surrounding Tahrir Square, but now because of an elaborate system of walls and barbed-wire roadblocks built by the authorities, the area near the embassy has been cut off from the core of the downtown.

As a result, he said, his business is “at zero.” By late afternoon that day his revenue was only 20 Egyptian pounds, or a little over $3. “People should dig tunnels like they do in Gaza,” he said, waving his water-pipe hose at the unsightly wall.

Two of the storefronts adjacent to White House Net were gutted, Romih said, during recent clashes between demonstrators and police. The burned-out shell of a car still lies upside down in the road in front of the shop. Across the street, men in business suits were hoisting themselves over a tall iron fence in order to get home from work, handing briefcases to one another over the top of the barrier. Armed security men stationed at a checkpoint leading to the embassy looked on.

Because of the government’s walls, scenes like this one are the new normal in the upscale neighborhood of Garden City and other areas south of Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the winter 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. [Continue reading…]

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