Shop owner strike paralyzes Port Said commerce

Shop owners in Port Said went on strike by closing their shops Sunday, to defy the government’s decision to only extend the city’s free trade zone license for two more years, MENA reported.

The shop owners are demanding that the city remain a free trade zone for an indefinite period, and called on security forces to prevent goods from being smuggled into Egypt from abroad.

According to satellite news service Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, hundreds of shop owners closed their shops, gathered in the commercial district of Ghoury Street downtown and raised banners denouncing the government. They demanded Port Said’s governor and security director be dismissed for not confronting the smuggling that has hurt the city’s trade.

The protesters are calling for the reinstatement former President Anwar Sadat’s 1976 decree to convert Port Said into a free trade zone. They said the policy helped build up Port Said’s harbor, which receives dozens of merchant ships every day.

In 2002, former President Hosni Mubarak changed the free trade zone policy in Port Said, thus increasing tariffs and decreasing the trade coming through its ports. Some observers believed the decisions were intended to punish Port Said residents for an assassination attempt on Mubarak during his visit there in September 1999.

Before the new policy, the Port Said free trade zone had been well-known for its ready made garments and household textiles. It was also known its for petroleum, logistics and maritime services. After the new regulations, these industries were drastically affected.

The 2002 regulations came after the government accused the Port Said free trade zone’s low prices of damaging Egypt’s general economy. Officials at the time said the zone was being used to smuggle cheap goods to Cairo and Alexandria.

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