On the Scene in Cairo: No Business, Just Tension

A trip from the airport to central Cairo typically takes 30 minutes, but with Egypt in turmoil, it was a three-hours-plus trek.

Young men, engaged in a type of vigilante justice, stopped our car, brandishing rifles, and poked the weapons through our window, then let us pass without another incident.

Army tanks, soldiers and shots fired are part of the scene.

Business, naturally, is at a standstill. But men throughout the streets are defying curfew and staying outside wielding bats, machetes and even golf clubs to protect their homes.

“It’s very bad for business, because they know everything will be changed, the people are afraid to walk in the street,” Mohamed Rasheed, a barbershop owner in Cairo, told CNBC Monday. “The people are afraid to walk in the street.”

As the Arab world’s most populous nation entered its seventh day of protest and desire to oust Egyptian President Mubarak, thousands of protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square chanting "Get out ... We want you out" and singing Egypt's national anthem, reported Reuters.

One of Egypt’s large companies, Orascom , which owns construction, telecom and chemical divisions reports that 5,000 of its 26,000 employees are working. And those few thousand are working construction.

American students from the American University in Cairo are leaving in droves, some on flights to either the Cyprus, Athens or Istanbul organized by the US State Department. Tourists, which fuel the country’s Number 1 business, are holed up in their hotel rooms or joining the exodus out of Egypt.

What’s the surprising for this male-dominated society is that Egyptian women, too, have also rejected the curfew and gathered, all veiled, in a central Cairo location to express their outrage at the political situation.

One such protester, an employee of the interior ministry, told CNBC Monday: “We’re not going to go back to work until we have elections.”

And they want elections now.