"We have very few sales," one jewellery vendor sighed as my friend looked over his collection of delicate 'hand of Fatimah' pendants. His statement was unnecessary. We could see the lack of would-be buyers for ourselves. Egypt's tourism downturn since the revolution is a disaster for Khan al-Khalili's merchants just as it is for all the other Egyptians involved in this nation's massive tourism industry.
Shopkeepers with a glut of time on their hands sat on rickety wooden chairs outside their stores and smoked cigarettes. The fierce heat of the sun left many in a lethargic slump. In a dimly-lit cavern of an antique store, filled to the brim with household junk, my friend and I looked over a collection of fabulous block-presses and drunk multiple cups of mint tea followed by ridiculously strong tiny cups of ahwa (Arabic coffee) with the owner. We had been his only customers all day. When we left he carefully switched off the lights behind us to conserve electricity.
For many would-be visitors, the shaky new politics of post-Mubarak Egypt have caused them to adjust their holiday plans to less problematic destinations. But their perception of 'threat' is totally inaccurate. Tourists have not been targeted at all. Egypt itself is going through a particularly tough phase as it battles to find its voice after 30 stifling years of Mubarak's politics but that hasn't affected the country's attitude to foreign travellers. If anything, Egyptians have become even more welcoming since the revolution which is rather difficult when you consider that this was already one of the most welcoming nations to travel in as a tourist beforehand.
After a fair amount of browsing my friend chose the 'hand of Fatimah' pendant that she wanted. She is leaving as well. Without any tourists her tour leading work has dried up and the travel company she works for have put her job on ice. All our Egyptian tour guide friends are also planning a long summer of no work. Unfortunately the Egypt-is-open-for-business message simply hasn't got through and the tourists are staying away in bulk. We grabbed a taxi back to Downtown after our shopping session. The driver didn't even bother to try and charge us a 'tourist rate'. After all there are hardly any tourists here.