CAIRO (Reuters Life!) - Egypt’s revolutionary upheaval dampened demand for the clocks, key chains, stuffed animals and other knick-knacks in Ahmed Magdy’s Cairo shop, but one item has sold faster than ever — the national flag.
The red, white and black standard has sprouted everywhere since President Hosni Mubarak was forced to quit on Friday, painted on faces and purses, tacked on walls and army tanks, and waved from farmers’ tractors and the windows of luxury cars.
Sitting in his shop in the market district of Attaba, Magdy pointed to a worn cardboard box as a customer fished out dozens of miniature pennants.
“I only have ones in that size left and I’ll finish them maybe tomorrow,” the 28-year-old businessman said. The more popular bigger sizes were long gone.
Magdy said he had sold around 300,000 flags since protests erupted nearly three weeks ago, although at one point he and his neighbors had to close their shops and guard property from looters after police withdrew from Cairo’s streets on January 28.
Many of the city’s vendors turned to selling the flags after the anti-Mubarak unrest paralyzed much of the economy.
Pro-democracy demonstrators took up the banners — which also bear a golden eagle representing Egypt’s 12th-century ruler Saladin — at early protests, waving them, wearing them as bandanas and even using them as prayer mats at a pinch.
Mubarak loyalists adopted the flag next, with thousands marching and waving them at rallies across the capital.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of revelers celebrating Mubarak’s departure brandished the flag as they flooded Cairo’s streets, dancing, cheering and singing patriotic hymns.
“There’s been huge demand, day and night,” Mohamed Bala, 27, said as he handed out dozens of flags from a wooden table a few streets from Tahrir Square, the heart of the protest movement.
Like many of the other flag vendors quick to spy a market opportunity, Bala said this was not his original job. He used to sell clothing on the street, but was now making quick money.
“Ever since Mubarak left, we’ve been making a lot of money, a lot more than before,” he said.
Across the street, hundreds of people danced to music blasting from speakers and shot flames from aerosol canisters.
Sherif Ibrahim and his mother walked by, with three flags between them. “For us, the Egyptian flag means honor,” he said. I feel extremely proud when I hold it. It’s not just fabric.”
Many vendors said the last time they sold so many flags was after Egypt’s footballers won last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, which also brought hundreds of thousands to the streets.
Understandably, the pride at having ousted one of the world’s most enduring strongmen in just 18 days ran much deeper.
“That (the African Cup) was just a match, you know, but this is a revolution. We feel free now,” Selma Imam, an 18-year-old student said, as she sat with a flag on a car in downtown Cairo.
Many vendors get their flags in Attaba, a labyrinth of narrow alleys packed with goods as diverse as sponges, incense, toy trucks, batteries, cigarette lighters and coconuts.
Retailers like Magdy, who joined early protests, get their stocks of flags from importers linked to east Asian supply chains. When those ran low, rougher, handmade flags crafted in the northern neighborhood of Cairo appeared as well.
While some flag traders have tried to spin a profit from Egypt’s burst of patriotism, many more were just trying to make up for two weeks without business, he said.
“People were selling tissues, now they sell flags. When the profit from that ends, they’ll move on to something else.”
Editing by Alistair Lyon and Elizabeth Fullerton