Hussein Malla / AP
Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi wave their national flags during a demonstration in Nasr City in Cairo on July 19.
CAIRO – Sayed Ibrahim Ali waved a large flag amid a crowd outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque earlier this week. Supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi have been gathering outside the mosque for the past three weeks demanding he be reinstated.
The 48-year-old mechanic, eagerly shaking his banner in the sun, said “it represents our goal of wanting to live well, to prosper. We’ve been living in darkness for 30 years.”
The Egyptian flag has become one of the most ubiquitous symbols of this country’s recent upheavals. Red, white, and black, with a golden eagle in the center, the world has watched it fly during countless rallies and protests over the past two years.
NBC News / Ziad Jaber
21-year-old Mostafa Mohammad has been selling flags in Tahrir Square since the 2011 revolution.
Amid the displays of patriotism, both ends of Egypt’s political spectrum can agree on one thing: This flag, and the country it represents, means everything to them.
And it’s led to a spike in sales of anything sporting the tricolor.
Egyptian flags are everywhere in Cairo, from the peaks of mosque minarets, to party boats on the Nile. Taxi drivers affix them onto dashboards. Young people sport them on clothes from T-shirts to hats.
Hassan Ali, a 59-year-old flag salesman, set up shop on a wooden cart just outside the pro-Morsi sit-in.
“I usually sell clothes, but we’re selling these items to feel with our people, to encourage them,” he said. “Some buy flags for themselves, their wives, their kids. People just want to unite under one banner.”
The flags come in different shapes as sizes. Some are cotton, made here in Egypt. Others are made in China, using more expensive satin material.
NBC News/ Ziad Jaber
In addition to flags, enterprising salesmen also feature hats and other wearable accessories.
They range in price from 50 cents for smaller ones up to $5 dollars for larger options. Clever local manufacturers have turned them into accessories, too. Most flag stands sell tricolor buttons and bracelets.
In addition to the Egyptian variety, Ali also sold black flags with the seal of Prophet Muhammad, banners associated with Islamic militant groups.
In total, Ali said he averaged roughly 400 flags sales a day. He said that number swells to over 1,000 during massive protests – but he insisted he had never changed his prices.
On the other side of town, in Tahrir Square, Mostafa Mohammad, 21, had an even larger array of merchandise. Flags from across the Arab world – from Palestine to Saudi Arabia – waved gently at his small market stall.
“I’ve been selling flags on this corner in Tahrir since the Battle of the Camel,” he said, referring to the now infamous moment in 2011 when thugs rushed the square on the backs of camels, beating many of those calling for then-president Hosni Mubarak to step down.
NBC News / Ziad Jaber
Flag stand outside Morsi rally sold militant Islamic flag in addition to Egyptian flag.
“But by far my best sales day ever was on June 30 of this year,” when he says he sold over 1,500 flags.
Schoolteacher Khalid Hassan Moawwad, 47, was in Tahrir Square on June 30 when millions of Egyptians took to the streets calling for an end to Morsi’s rule.
“The Muslim Brothers don’t have an allegiance to any one country. They don’t believe in the idea of a country,” he said, referring to the Islamist group’s wide reach across the Middle East. “Islam is about social justice. They don’t believe in that,” he fumed, as he sipped tea at a makeshift coffee shop in the center of Tahrir.
Remone Reda, a 24-year-old Christian, agreed. “They’re concerned with their own opportunities, not the opportunities of the entire country,” he said, standing on the corner outside Mostafa Mohammad’s flag stand. “The Muslim Brotherhood associates our flag with Morsi, but it’s not theirs alone.”
First published July 18 2013, 12:32 PM