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Cairo - #Hashtag Economics#

Unemployment is high in Egypt, in fact the country has just been downgraded from B to B- by one of those organisations who seem to have a lot of power but no responsibility.

This downgrade is the result of that old standby, 'the present political situation.' Unemployment is particularly high amongst recent graduates, who can find few jobs that meet their newly elevated status (I think that's probably part of the problem; feckless bunch, graduates).

However, there are at least three occupations that I can think of that have improved Cairo's streets over many years. The first is the rag pickers that can be seen everywhere, salvaging waste from bins and recycling much of what they take. It's a full time, professionally organised business operation, going back decades. The city itself cannot cope with the amount of rubbish it produces, so they have an arrangement where the private sector step in. Without them, Cairo would have smothered under its own detritus somewhere in the last century. It's also a job for life and probably better paid than a graduate's salary.

The second group are the unofficial guardians of parking spaces for Cairo's drivers. There are over 10m people in Greater Cairo, all seem to have a car, all seem to be on the road at the same time and all are looking for that convenient parking spot on the street. Crossing the road here, can be a terrifying and strangely life affirming experience (life affirming, if you survive, naturally). Cairo has all the problems of a city where car seems to be king; downtown Cairo often seems in a state of permanent gridlock, officious traffic cops and of course, nowhere to park. This is where the park and guiders come in - each seem to have their own territory and they operate using a combination of high brain function algebra and trigonometry with an arcane, almost magical command of space that allows them to guide and cajole a brand new Merc into a gap designed for a SmartCar. Failing that, they simply roll the cars around them backward and forward until the required space appears.

The third group certainly been around for a shorter time than the others, not quite two years yet, but their contribution has, if anything had even more impact on the country - these are the permanent residents of Tahrir Sq. Although protesting is not strictly a job in the conventional sense, the camp at Tahrir has people whose commitment and dedication, certainly borders on the professional. At the moment, those heady days of 2011 are very much in the past (as is also the high chance of being shot and killed) and parts of Tahrir smell of piss and shit, I get the feeling that there are those prepared to come out of retirement if needed.

What got me thinking about all this was an article in today's Daily News Egypt, an English language broadsheet published in Cairo. This city is like most places in the Middle East - there is very little social or legal protection for workers and often people need to create their own opportunities and to fill a niche in the market place. A new website has been launched in Cairo called E17asheshbkam.com which translates as something like 'how much is the hashish?' Basically it provides up to date information for the highly illegal drug throughout the city. By putting neighbourhood details in, you can find the current price of a little of what you fancy at the click of a button.

The newspaper piece went onto say that the whole thing could be an enormous hoax, and the website could not be contacted for a comment. Even if its not true, I like to think some enterprising Cairene thinking about software, hardware and a user friendly interface, probably whilst sitting in a university tutorial, working for that degree that seems to, more often than not, lead nowhere, apart from a plane to a new life somewhere else.

Posted by johnward 02:05 Archived in Egypt

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