Egyptians Are Buying and Selling Gold Just to Stay Afloat

Inside the wood-paneled shop in Cairo’s famed Khan el-Khalili market, the price of gold was slumping fast, and Rania Hussein was feeling the future slip through her fingers.

She and her mother watched the gold merchant weigh the necklace and three bangles they had brought in — jewelry Ms. Hussein had bought for her mother as a present five years ago but which they now needed to sell. Her brother was getting married, an expensive undertaking even in normal times, but the economic crisis and soaring inflation that have gripped Egypt for more than two years left the family no choice.

Years of reckless spending and economic mismanagement had come to a head in 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helped plunge Egypt into a financial crisis. The war in Gaza has only deepened the pain.

The crisis has jacked up the price of the price of eggs at the grocery store as well as the new furniture her brother is required, by tradition, to buy for the marital home, Ms. Hussein said. It also has shut her clothing design business and wiped out three-quarters of the value of her brother’s salary as an accountant.

And, in an odd side effect, it upended Khan el-Khalili’s normally placid gold jewelry and bullion stores, with their old-fashioned curly lettered signage and the Quranic recitations drifting ceaselessly from dusty speakers. In the past two years, speculators buying gold descended on the market as a crashing Egyptian currency drove up demand for gold as a safe haven from the turmoil.

While the price of the metal has generally risen despite the occasional reverse, its value has ebbed and flowed along with demand, depending on the vagaries of daily economic news, a volatility that has baffled both consumers and merchants.

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