CAIRO (Reuters) – The owner of the popular aladdin cafe in Cairo’s Egyptian capital has warned the city’s black-market economy that it is losing ground to a resurgent mafia that controls the city.
Aladdin cafe owner Hassan Khalaf, in his early 60s, says he has been unable to keep his business afloat for more than three years, and says his competitors are using black walnuts to make up for lost business.
“This mafia is trying to use black walnoses to take advantage of the fact that the market is open,” Khalaf told Reuters in an interview from his Cairo cafe.
“The mafia is the only reason that we can survive.”
Khalaf said the black walna are growing in number and power, as well as in the number of their employees, and he expects the number to climb dramatically.
The mafia’s influence has been growing in the capital in recent years as Egypt grapples with an economic crisis, a spike in crime and an unprecedented spate of assassinations.
The city has seen nearly 4,000 murders since June 2016, according to the latest data available.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the city since the beginning of April, according the official MENA news agency, with the number believed to be higher than that.
“There are many different kinds of mafia that control the black market, so the only way to defend against them is to fight them,” Khalef said.
“If you are the one who sells black walnas, you are doing what the mafia wants you to do.”
Black walnose smuggling is a lucrative business for the mafia, which has used them to raise funds and sell drugs and guns, according for the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
Aladdin, the largest black walnetas producer in Egypt, employs 1,200 people, according its website.
The cafe’s owner, Mahmoud Alaa, told Reuters he had tried to fight back but the mafia was able to control the business.
Alaa, who runs a number of other cafes, said he has had to sell his cafes, including in central Cairo, to try to stop the mafia’s rise.
He said he had been selling walnut oil in a warehouse outside Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was once occupied by pro-democracy protesters.
“It is a great crime, but if you sell walnuts you are not helping the Egyptian people,” he said.
Khalef said the mafia controls the black-listed cafes in Cairo, including Aladdin and Aladdin Cafe, because they serve as a conduit to smuggling goods across the border into Syria.
“The mafia wants to sell the products to Turkey, Iran and other countries, so we have to buy from Turkey,” he added.
Kualaef said he used to make more money selling food, but that the black money he had earned was now spent on buying drugs, weapons and other drugs.
“I have been in the business for more then 50 years and I have lost money on every sale,” he told Reuters.
“We are not afraid of any one, but the black mafia has its own plans and the people who support them do not trust the police or the justice system.”
The Egyptian police, meanwhile, have said they are investigating allegations that Khalaf sold counterfeit walnut products and used fake ID cards.
In February, a group of officers raided a home in central Egypt, seizing a number the group believed to belong to Khalaf and several other members of the aladdin mafia.
The officers confiscated a laptop and a black suitcase, but not a weapon.
Police say they seized a number stolen from the home in Cairo last month and said they were looking for Khalaf.
“He is a criminal and we are looking for him,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
“Our officers have made contact with him and are continuing to investigate the case,” the statement added.
“Khalafa is being held under administrative detention pending investigation into his involvement in the criminal activities of the black mob.”(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulgheit; Writing by Sami Aboud; Editing by Alison Williams)