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Business in Egypt slowly returning to normal

Egyptians walk in a Cairo market on the 10th day of a popular uprising to oust President Hosni Mubark.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: 'People gotta eat' is a pretty solid business model. But in Egypt the past couple of weeks, the business of food has been a little bit different. Grocery stores and their suppliers have been at the mercy of what's been happening out on the streets. None of which is conducive to the bottom line.

The natural foods company Wadi Foods is headquartered in Cairo. They sell Egyptian olive oil, for instance, both at home and elsewhere in the Middle East. Khalil Nasrallah is one of the co-founders. Welcome to the broadcast.

Khalil Nasrallah: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: I think the most basic question, sir, is how has business been for you these past couple of weeks?

Nasarallah: Well the business was shut down, so this answers your question. Yesterday was the first re-working day, and today was I would say, close to 70 to 80 percent normal.

Ryssdal: What about your clients, your customers, the people to whom you sell your food products and the people you buy from? Have they have been able to have any kind of normal business?

Nasarallah: Most of them are back in business. I wouldn't say to back to almost normal, they're starting to place their orders and we're starting to deliver. But the main one that was hit badly was the hotel business, and we are suffering over there.

Ryssdal: Have you had security concerns about your business? It has been, as we've all seen on television, it's been rough.

Nasarallah: We did face quite a bit of challenges, especially when the police left the streets and a lot of looting happened, and the prisoners were let out of the prisons. And we had to protect our farms and our factories and our offices. This was the biggest challenge we faced.

Ryssdal: Tell me about that: How do you protect your property when things like this happen?

Nasarallah: We were lucky that our employees were at the factory and at the farm at the time, and instead of them doing their daily work, we asked them to help us protect the farm and the factory, which they did amazingly well. We created shifts to man the gates and the fences on a 24-hour basis. And everything went very well actually.

Ryssdal: Is it possible to tell yet how much money you've lost and how much this revolution in the streets is costing you?

Nasarallah: The early estimates that we've run today and yesterday would bring the losses around $200,000. Now we didn't necessarily see the long-term effect of this problem, so it might be more than this.

Ryssdal: Will you change your business strategy at all? I mean, you sell food in the local Egyptian markets, but you export as well, into regional markets in the Middle East, yes?

Nasarallah: Yes, exactly. We do export. And I think to compensate for the losses in the local markets, we will have to export more product. Now it might also beneficial to export these days because the exchange rate is in our favor.

Ryssdal: For all the recent troubles, Egypt has been in most regards, a stable place to business the past number of years now, isn't it?

Nasarallah: Yes. Egypt, for the past two years, has been doing really well when many countries in the world were suffering from the economic meltdown. And we have seen a lot of businesses and factories coming up in this country, a lot of investment in real estate that we have seen over the past two years. And we still expect this to go on, even with the troubles that we've seen.

Ryssdal: If it doesn't recover, Mr. Nasarallah, will you stay, or will you leave?

Nasarallah: I think we have a lot at stake in this country, and we have very firm beliefs that it will recover. But if it becomes impossible to live here, then we have to make a decision. But right now, we are staying put.

Ryssdal: Khalil Nasarallah, talking to us from Cairo. He's the co-founder of Wadi Foods there. Mr. Nasarallah, thank you so much for your time.

Nasarallah: Thank you, thank you very much.

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