Egypt Protests Cripple Impoverished Workers

Ahmed Gomaa runs a stall two miles from Liberation Square, where street armies fought for a second day in Cairo.
Ahmed Gomaa runs a stall two miles from Liberation Square, where street armies fought for a second day in Cairo.
CBS

CAIRO - The anger in Egypt against the government has its roots in poverty. Nearly 1 out of 5 Egyptians lives below the poverty line, and many others are struggling just to get by, CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

(Scroll down to watch a video on this report)

There was chaos in the streets of Cairo Thursday as protesters for and against President Hosni Mubarak squared off for a second day. Another huge rally is planned for Friday, what anti-government forces call Mubarak's "day of departure."

Special Section: Anger in the Arab World

In a neighborhood called Islamic Cairo, merchants peddle produce, bread, coffee, whatever sells and have rode out hard times in the same alleys since the 10th century.

"This is the first customer come to me for seven days," Ahmed Gomaa said when Strassmann came to his shop.

Gomaa runs the family business. His stall stands two miles from Liberation Square, where street armies fought for a second day. In the "souk," the bazaar, he sells tablecloths and pillow covers.

This revolt scared off customers, but he struggles even during good times, earning $100 a month for his family of five.

"So, so, so hard," Gomaa said.

Revolts don't happen in places where people are living large. Revolts happen in places where hope is dead or dying, and at least a quarter of all Egyptians try to scratch out a living on less than $2 a day.

Marwa Ahmed feels love at the front door but squeezed everywhere else. A high-school English teacher, she earns $13,000 a year. She's 42 and unmarried, like almost half of Egyptian women over 30. Her last pay raise was five years ago.

"The prices are rising every single day," said Ahmed. "So who is there to stop it?"

Gomaa doesn't know whether he should hope his situation will improve.

"This is, as we say in Egypt, in God's hands," Gomaa said.

Since the pharaohs, Egyptians have looked to the top for hope. They do again but have a hard time seeing it.

  • strassmannbio2011.jpg
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.