Cairo          -            Egypt’s economy had just started to recover after years of political turmoil and militant attacks when the coronavirus crisis hit, impacting especially its vital tourism sector. 

Now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has loosened a strict curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to kickstart North Africa’s largest economy.

Having shuttered shops and cafes in late March and forced millions of civil servants to stay home, it is slowly reversing some of these measures, bringing back many state workers and extending the trading hours of shops and malls. The blessing for the emerging economy of more than 100 million people, experts say, is that activity has kept ticking over in agriculture and construction, and especially in the vast informal sector.

“Twenty-five percent of the workforce is in agriculture, which remains unaffected,” said Angus Blair, a business professor at the American University in Cairo.

“Many other businesses continue to remain open, albeit with reduced staff, and construction is continuing.”

Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency have been tourism, remittances sent home from workers abroad, and Suez Canal revenues -- which have all dropped sharply during the global lockdown in travel and trade.

                  But more than half of Egypt’s private sector is made up of the so-called informal economy -- ranging from streetside fruit sellers to day labourers on construction sites to one-man auto repair businesses.

                  Around four million workers make up this shadow economy comprised of low-paid irregular labourers.

                  “The large informal sector, while finding conditions slower, will continue to function,” predicted Blair.