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EGYPT: Cairo turns red on Valentine's Day

February 15, 2010 | 10:13 am

RA scene of romantic decorations, big red hearts and teddy bears dominated stores throughout the streets of Cairo as thousands of Egyptian lovers celebrated St. Valentine's Day on Sunday.

The hot climate didn’t stand in the way of many who went out to buy presents, flowers and souvenirs for their sweethearts and family members. Gift shops and florists were not the only ones prepared for the event, as restaurants and cafes were similarly awash with hearts and splashes of red.

Celebrating Valentine's Day is a new trend in Egyptian life. People in Cairo and other big cities started taking it seriously during the late 1990s, as younger generations became more exposed to Western culture. Now some young Egyptians even celebrate Halloween, which is technically denounced by Islam because of its pagan roots.

But with the financial difficulties in Egypt -- more than 40% of the population lives on $2 or less a day --celebrating Valentine's Day doesn’t come cheap.

Mohamed Zanati runs a souvenir shop in downtown Cairo. He said the price of an average gift (a set of candles, a large teddy bear or a doll) can reach up to $50, as they vary according to their material and size, adding that his trade prospers during the week before and after Valentine's Day despite the relatively expensive prices.

"Most of our clients on Sunday were young people between 18 and 25 years old, and this year we've had more customers than the year before, when recession was hitting people harder than now. We ran out of many items and had to order for more," Zanati said.

Cafe owner Mokhtar El Khawaga says that he had to hire extra staff for Sunday, stressing that Valentine's Day has grown to be an exceptional event in recent years. "We stared preparing for Valentine's earlier in the month. We have to make sure we've got double the quantity of everything we serve this day.

"We get at least double the guests we host in other regular days," he said.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: A man selling red balloons in the streets of Cairo on Valentine's Day. Credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters