A recent proposal by the minister of local development, Ahmed Zeki, is turning heads in Egypt. Zeki has suggested that businesses limit their operating hours to decrease the use of electricity and increase productivity. The proposal would require businesses to close at 10pm with the intention of encouraging people to go to bed earlier and work more efficiently during the day. An article in the newspaper Al Ahram quotes an Egyptian man shopping late at night as observing, “What is next, they’re going to give us sleeping pills to make sure we’re all in bed on time?”
While reforming Egypt’s economy will definitely require some out-of-the-box thinking, limiting shopping hours may not be the best place to start. In a very well reported piece on entrepreneurs in Egypt, Lauren Bohn points out that the obstacles for starting small businesses in Egypt are still prohibitively high. Even as the Egyptian government (and the United States) hopes that the private sector will be the major job-creator in Egypt in the coming years, harsh bankruptcy laws, insufficient access to financing, and bureaucratic red tape make Egypt a difficult place to start a business.
Given the current norms of late-night commercial activity in Egypt, mandating that shops close their doors early seems more of a burden than a benefit for businesses. The government claims, though, that the measure will save Egypt some $1 billion annually by reducing electricity costs, which are heavily subsidized. As Egypt seeks to close its budget gap of $12 billion, it will be forced to ask the public to make sacrifices. The success of this policy suggestion will, of course, depend on how it is implemented and whether the government can convince Egyptians that it is a smart way to cut costs.