It is 6.00am and Rida Mansur feels she is running late. The 57-year-old mother of five has to get to the vegetable market early to buy food for her family before things run out. But she was not lucky today: All she could get were a few expensive tomatoes and cucumbers.
Mansur’s problems are compounded by the night-time curfews which began on 28 January and which restrict consumers’ options in terms of when they can shop, and make it hard for farmers to get their produce to market.
Long queues have been common over the past few days outside bakeries selling subsidized bread, supermarkets and vegetable sellers. Mansur tried in vain to get hold of chicken, and there have been reports of hoarding and price hikes.
New Egyptian Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq said his priority was to secure steady supplies of food, and Minister for Social Solidarity Ali Moselhi said Egypt had sufficient wheat stocks, but such announcements do not seem to have diminished the bakery and other queues.
The government says hospitals are stretched to capacity, but people are not sure of the real situation. One Cairo man was shown on Egyptian TV saying he had tried in vain to get an ambulance to come and pick up his elderly father for kidney dialysis treatment.
Mansur’ s eldest daughter is eight and a half months pregnant. She is due to deliver any day but her doctor told her that he would not be able to get to the hospital because the “protest-induced street violence” made Cairo unsafe.
“The doctor said I would need a Caesarean, but time is running out. This can be dangerous,” daughter Fatma Sayed, 31, said.
Compounding her worries is the closure of the banks which means that even if she chose to have the operation done privately she could not get hold of the necessary cash.
“God only knows what will happen in the days to come… Everything has come to a total halt. If the demonstrators can tolerate this, there are others who can’t.”
Many ordinary people are extremely worried by reports that thousands of prison inmates have managed to escape during the chaos. There is talk of armed thieves attacking people in their homes. A number of shops have been looted and some artefacts in the world-famous Egyptian Museum damaged by intruders.
Mohamed, 20, Mansur’s youngest son, decided to do something about the threat of marauding thieves in his district of Sayeda Aisha, southern Cairo. With his family and neighbours he has set up a team of watchmen.
“We have to stay up all night to keep the vandals away. If we don’t do this, they will attack us and take everything away.”
Happy to be taking part in the defence of his family and neighbours in the absence of the police, Mohamed has nevertheless to absent himself from work. He says he cannot go to work, because he has to sleep.
I have to choose between work and security… But this isn’t about property that can be looted. It is about lives that can be lost. That is why staying up all night is vital.”
Mohamed’s inability to go to work has deprived his mother of the 10 pounds (US$1.5) he used to give her every day towards the family budget.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions