Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Roads of racks

Traffic in downtown Cairo is becoming almost unbearable as a result of an explosion in the number of street vendors, as Mai Samih discovered

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Cairo’s downtown 26 July Street and other streets have seen an explosion in the number of street vendors since the 25 January Revolution, sometimes blocking the traffic and playing cat-and-mouse with the police. Every time the police remove the vendors from the streets they seem to manage to come back again.
According to Walid Azzouz, 40, a Cairo taxi-driver, “at first, the vendors used to stay on the pavements, but now they are on the streets as well, with the result that it is difficult for cars to pass. If I complain, they call me names. We’ve called the police and they came three times, but every time the police move the vendors on they later come right back again.”
“Some of them even take electricity from the street lamps to light their stalls so that they can stay there all night. There are lots of vendors behind the Galaa Hospital, and near the Ali Baba cinema the vendors have installed steel stalls, some of them taking up the whole pavement.”
Atef Moussa, 60, also a taxi-driver, agreed. “Ever since the beginning of the revolution, we have been suffering from endless traffic jams. There are some 13 taxi stations on Galaa Street and 26 July Street, but the problems come from the street vendors who block the streets,” he said.
There are two types of street vendors. The first consists of shopkeepers who had to close their shops after the fall in the retail trade after the revolution, while the second is made up of people working in tourism who have turned into salesmen since the revolution.
Gamal Abdel-Hamid, 32, a clothes vendor on the corner of Galaa and 26 July streets, used to work in Wekalet Al-Balah, a market not far from 26 July Street. He had worked there since 1990, having inherited the job from his father and grandfather, but when times got tough after the revolution he went to sell his goods on the streets instead.
“I used to work in Wekalet Al-Balah, but the police moved us on because they said we were standing too near to the monuments. So we came here. At first, we stood in the streets, but then they told us to stand on the pavements. The government has promised us a space to sell our products in the Nahda area or Obour city many times, but no action has been taken.”
“I come here every day to sell my merchandise. Most of my customers are women, and they would find it difficult to come if we were moved outside Cairo. If I leave my place here even for a day, it will be very difficult to get it back as people are always fighting for space. Anyway, people know that this is my place and customers come for the same reason.”
However, Abdel-Hamid would be ready to move despite his doubts about his customers if the government guaranteed him a new spot to sell his goods. “If the government really gives us a market this time, a permanent one that is, we will all be ready to leave. But we have debts to pay merchants in Port Said and families to support, so any solution needs to be a rapid one.”
Nabil Riad, 45, another vendor, agreed, saying that though he recognised that the stalls were causing traffic jams given the current economic situation he felt the traders had little choice.
“I’ve been here for two months selling second-hand clothes from Port Said. I have a shop in Wekalet Al-Balah as well, but I have had to come here to sell my goods as the customers are not coming to the shops like they used to. Another problem is that some markets like Al-Talaat have become infested with gangs demanding protection money. Not everyone can deal with that. Selling clothes in the streets is better than stealing. Where else are we supposed to go?”
Riad had reservations about moving the market outside Cairo. “If we were given places there, would we be able to attract the customers? Downtown Cairo is full of people, which is why we moved here in the first place.” He has kept his shop open in case the street stall does not work out. “If anything happens, I’ll go back to my shop. It’s safer, and it’s more comfortable for customers.”
Momen Khodeir, 32, is less confident about the future. He used to work as a taxi-driver but decided to change his career as a result of the current crisis. “This is my home area, and I know everybody here. I work here every day to provide for my family. Obviously, I would like them to give us a proper space to work in, wherever that might be,” he said.
Azzouz suggested a practical solution to the crisis. “The government should provide the street vendors with an alternative and a proper space to sell their goods in. In the end, like everyone else they need a source of income. There’s a parking area near Boulaq Abul-Ela bridge that could be converted into a market. That would give the vendors a better source of income, and it would be better for the authorities. Instead of renting parking spaces for LE5, they could rent out stalls for LE20-25.”
“The government should play a role by taking these people off the streets and getting rid of all the donkey carts behind the Galaa Hospital which are polluting the area,” Moussa said.
According to Shawarea Laha Tareekh (Streets with History) by historian Abbas Al-Tarabili, 26 July Street was originally called Fouad Street, but the name was changed after the 1952 Revolution to mark the day former king Farouk left Egypt on 26 July. It is one of the longest streets in Cairo, starting in Al-Khezandar Square and passing through the Azbakeya Gardens to Essaaf. From there, it goes by the Abul-Ela Mosque over 26 July bridge to Zamalek and from Zamalek to Mohandessin and then eventually to 6 October city.
The street was once occupied by a tributary of the Nile, as were the Qasr Al-Aini and Tahrir districts of Cairo before the river took its current course. Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mohamed Ali Pasha, planned the streets on the east bank of the Nile, including what is now 26 July Street.
He was also responsible for erecting the buildings that line the streets and for installing street lighting. 26 July is now one of the busiest commercial streets in Cairo, with many sections of it being lined with shops.

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