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Egypt’s cash-strapped cut back on holiday spending

Hikes in prices of different goods in Egypt, triggered by a recent flotation of the local pound, has taken a toll on shopping

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Caption:Christmas and New Year festive items are displayed outside a Cairo shop.
Gulf News

Cairo: Hikes in prices of different goods in Egypt, triggered by a recent flotation of the local pound, has taken a toll on shopping for New Year gifts in the country, traders have said.

“Prices of the New Year gifts, such as the Christmas tree and the Santa Clause accessories, have increased by 70 to 80 per cent compared to prices of the last year,” said Munir Khalil, a keeper of a shop in the eastern Cairo district of Qobri Al Qoba.

Christmas trees at Khalil’s store retail this year from 30 Egyptian pounds (Dh5.7) to LE140, depending on the size and the material.

“Last year, prices of these trees ranged from 17 to 80 pounds,” added Khalil.

“The latest increases have badly affected our sales, which used to be high in the days before the start of the New Year. People now spend their money on food and private lessons for their children instead of buying the Christmas gifts.”

In November, Egypt floated its local pound and cut fuel subsidies, measures that were praised by economists, but stirred public discontent due to resulting price rises.

The government has said that the tough steps were necessary to heal the economy battered by the unrest that followed the 2011 unrest.

Rami Ebrahim, another keeper of a gift store in Qobri Al Qoba, said that the current season is the worst since he started his business 20 years ago.

“Life has become hell for many people. They have neither the motive nor the money to celebrate the Christmas and the New Year,” added the 52-year-old man.

“Look at the goods. They have been lying in their place for days because there are no customers. I hope the situation will improve before the [Coptic] Christmas.”

The Orthodox Copts, who make the majority of Egypt’s Christian minority, mark the Christmas on January 7.

Ebrahim sells festive trees illuminated with electric lights and Chinese Christmas-themed items such as glasses, medals and decorative strings.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is also struggling to cut imports in order to prop up its shrinking foreign currency receipts.

Earlier this month, the government increased customs tariffs on a wide range of imports labelled as luxuries in the country.

“The increase in duties have also resulted in increase in prices of the New Year gifts, which are mostly imported,” Ahmad Abu Jabal of the Chamber of Commerce, said.

“Reports show that sales of these gifts have dropped by half at the local market compared to last year,” Abu Jabal told private newspaper Al Shorouk.

In the past, many people in mostly Muslim Egypt used to celebrate the New Year Eve in nightclubs, theatres. and out on the streets.

In recent years, the festivities have become low-key due to a wave of Islamism.