, CAIRO, June 4, 2009 (AFP) – Many of Cairo’s 20 million residents took the day off on Thursday, faced with the impossibility of getting to work through a vast security operation set up for US President Barack Obama’s visit.
Thousands of uniformed and plainclothed police were deployed along the streets of the most populous city in Africa and the Middle East as part of what a security official described as "the biggest we have seen yet."
Large flower pots have appeared along Obama’s route over the last two days, with broken walls patched up and long stretches of metal fences repainted a garish green as part of the city’s makeover.
With several main arteries closed for Obama’s visit, where he will give a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University, many Cairo inhabitants decided to stay at home rather than go to work.
"There’s no point working, the city will be shut down for Obama so I’ll stay at home," a taxi driver who gave his name as Mohammed said. "I guess we’ll watch his speech on television.
Others were informed by Egypt’s formidable security apparatus that it would be a good idea not to go to work.
"Security came, they took my ID, came back and told me ‘tomorrow you don’t work’," said another driver based in an apartment building near Cairo University.
One resident on another nearby road said the building’s inhabitants had been made to sign a document saying that they would not open their windows throughout Thursday morning or face the consequences.
At a supermarket not far from the the speech venue, shoppers discovered that the daily bread delivery had not yet arrived.
"You’ll get your bread when that bloody man leaves," the shopowner told a customer looking for breakfast supplies, referring to the US president.
Many schools in and around Cairo — some in the middle of exams — were shut for the day.
Even family celebrations have been called off.
"I’ve cancelled my daughter’s birthday today," a middle class professional who asked not to be named told AFP. "There’s no way I’m spending the day stuck with 22 kids behind a roadblock."