Fingernails caked with soil, Mohamed Atlam scoops up handfuls of earthen brown potatoes, fiery red peppers and emerald green lettuce, freshly sliced at the root, into bags. He weighs his wares, tallies the price on some scratch paper and dutifully hauls them to whichever client on the Mohandiseen block made the order. From the back of a red pickup truck, Mohamed earns his living selling fruits and vegetables he grows or picks himself. Egypt, its earth, is Mohamed’s livelihood.
Immediately after the revolution, the grassroots sprung to life. Initiatives to rebuild, restructure, reclaim Egypt were everywhere with calls to organize neighborhood cleanups, invest in the stock market and, importantly, support small local businesses to keep them afloat. Some initiatives succeeded, some fell through the cracks, but one that has recently culminated into a full-blown media campaign is the recently conceived Buy Egyptian campaign (ishtiri masry).
Mohamed recounts how difficult it was to make ends meet during the 18 days of protest that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak but also brought business, of any sort, to a screeching halt. Things have improved since then, he says, but not everyone can say the same.
Food is a necessity. Everyone eats and, for the most part, everyone eats local in one way or other. Other industries like white goods, textiles and furniture have not been able to bounce back quite as fast, with those who can afford to spend freely opting for imported goods. That's where Buy Egyptian comes in.
On December 12, Al-Qahera Al-Youm presenter Amr Adib used his time on air to call upon Egyptians to put the Fridays of Rage and million man marches on hold for one week and come together for a Friday of support for the little man, the local brands and retailers that need that extra push to get them through and keep the economy rolling.
Within a day, hundreds of Facebook groups, events and invitations sprung up bearing the cause as a title, each with their own logo or spin on the idea. On December 13, Adib repeated his call for Egyptians to head out on Friday December 16 and buy their winter heaters, blankets and clothes and eat at local dives. “Go eat rice pudding [at Saber], go eat liver and brains from Fath El-Sultan. Tomorrow after you vote go to El-Brince and eat some molokheyya,” he says.
Explaining that the initiative is partly symbolic and should, of course, extend beyond one day, Adib argued that history has shown the power of the people in one million man march, why not a million man shop? “[The economy] needs one big push on one day to say, ‘We trust in the Egyptian economy and we trust in our Egyptian craftsmanship. We want our factories to get back on their feet and our workers to come back to work.’”
That day, countless big names voiced their support including Al-Ashera Masa’an host Mona El-Shazly, Khairy Ramadan, Amr Khaled and Jihan Fawzi, further propping up the cause. As of press time, countless Egyptian brands jumped on the bandwagon, offering significant discounts on their local products such as Raya, Zahran and Arafa Group stores.
There’s no telling if one day could really make a significant economic impact or not, but the sentiment took flight much faster than any before it, showing that, if anything, Egyptians are willing to come together for a cause be it tangible or symbolic.
And Mohamed may enjoy a day of a boost in profit from a few more sold kilos of in-season cauliflower or beets, but to him, ultimately, it’s about Egypt. “I couldn’t live without Egypt, its land, its people, and neither could anyone else.” For a more extensive list of stores carrying a discount this Friday, pick up Thursday's issue of Al-Ahram where they have a supplement dedicated to brands supporting the cause, or check out their online edition.
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