by Ahmed Shafiq
The narrow alleyways in the centuries-old Khan el-Khalili bazaar marketplace in Egypt’s Old Cairo looked unusually empty except for a few foreign tourists and local vendors.
“This scene is bizarre for us,” said Hassan Sadeq, owner of an antique shop at the market.” I have been working here 25 years and I have never witnessed such worse days.”
Tourism in this Middle Eastern country has received a heavy blow after a Russian airplane crashed over North Sinai last October.
The crash has led some countries, including Britain and Russia, to suspend their flights to Egypt, adding more recession to the already poor tourism sector, which has always been a major source of the country’s national income and foreign currency reserves.
All this has left Khan el-Khalili market, one of the most famous and oldest bazaars in the region, almost isolated.
The market, which dates back to 1382 A.D., is located in the heart of Cairo’s old Islamic district and is considered one of the most important tourist attractions in the most populous Arab country.
The number of tourists in the formerly crowded market has dropped, impacting merchants and their once thriving businesses.
“It is a tourism season in Cairo, but political and security conditions have caused a sharp drop in the number of tourists,” Sadeq said as he cleaned a fake golden mask of a Pharaonic queen with a white piece of cloth.
“Now we barely manage to cover the business cost,” he added. “We want the business to recover.”
The 42-year-old man recalled the busy days when the bazaar was once Cairo’s number one attraction for tourists and locals.
“Visiting Egypt is not complete without visiting the Khan el-Khalili,” he said. “It is such a great destination for tourists for its historical value as well as the cheap prices of everything.”
And Sadeq’s words about the bazaar are extremely true.
The market has everything a tourist might need, from antiques to home-made perfume and even spices of all varieties.
Walking deeper into the bazaar trough its tiny alleys, the glitter of gold, hand-made glass artifacts, carpets and belly-dance costumes can effortlessly be noticed in every corner, adding beauty to the charming ancient market.
Although it has been modernized, the market still maintains its ancient Islamic character with tens of old structures, architectures and hotels dotting the commercial district.
Moreover, there are several coffeehouses, restaurants and street food vendors distributed throughout the market to serve tourists.
But for business owners, the beauty and value of the place are meaningless without a constant flow of tourists.
“I think of shutting down my cafe if things will go on like this,” said Abdul Rauf Hussein, owner of Zahraa coffee house.
The man who has been in the business at the bazaar for decades said local Egyptians cannot replace foreign tourists because they just do not like to spend money at the market.
“Many Egyptian visitors come here meet foreigners, which can barely be spotted here,” he said with a helpless smile.
“That is why I might quit the market and open somewhere else. I have no idea when tourism will revive,” he added. Enditem