CAIRO (Reuters) – A steady stream of employees flowed into Cairo’s financial district and customers queued to access their accounts on Sunday, the first day for the country’s banks to open after a week-long closure due to political protests.
Bankers are bracing for chaos in dealing rooms with foreign investors and local businessmen fleeing the Egyptian pound after street protests paralyzed much of the economy and dried up important sources of foreign exchange.
Armored personnel carriers stood guard at intersections where soldiers had erected sandbag barriers, as buses dropped employees off at large state banks.
Outside the banks, dozens of customers were waiting to enter when they open for public business at 10:00 a.m.
“We have to have some order around here. People are anxious to get paid and pull money out. It has been almost two weeks and life is at a standstill,” said Metwali Sha’ban, a volunteer making a list of customers to organize who would enter first.
With the political crisis still unresolved, banks may see panicky withdrawals of cash by Egyptians worried that access to their deposits could be restricted again.
Banks and ATM machines in downtown Cairo have attracted long queues of customers anxious to withdraw money before banks close after a shortened working day at 1:30 p.m.
“I have been visiting several bank branches downtown since nine in the morning,” said Soad Mohamed, 62, who wanted to cash in her pension. “Every bank I go to, they tell me, the bank is closed. I have one more hour to go before banks close again, and I still have not been able to withdraw the amount of money I need.”
Banks may also be nervous to trade with each other in the domestic money markets, a source of funding for them.
Some 341 bank branches, including 152 in Cairo, are opening across the country.
In Tahrir Square, the focal point of nearly two weeks of protests against President Hosni Mubarak, soldiers were opening the doors of the main government administrative building, the Mugamma.
A line of Egyptians was lining up at doors in the back of the building that does not face onto the square.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Editing by David Holmes)
($1=5.857 Egyptian Pound)
Mochila insert follows.