Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Coping with the street vendors

New plans are being drawn up to reduce the number of street vendors in Cairo and Giza, writes Mai Samih

Al-Ahram Weekly

The problem of too many street vendors has been paralysing the heart of Cairo for some time, and in January 2013 the government started a crackdown in the Cairo and Giza governorates in an attempt to solve the problem. However, the crackdown only lasted for a few days before the vendors returned to their original places. There were plans to relocate the vendors to 6 October City, but no real action was taken.

On 18 June Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and Governor of Cairo Galal Al-Said announced at a joint press conference that a decision had been taken to move all the street vendors to a former multi-storey garage in the Al-Torguman district that has room for more than 3,000 vendors.

According to government statistics, nine districts in the Giza governorate have too many street vendors, and 320 of them wish to participate in the new mall project. The vendors, selling fruit, shoes, clothes and accessories, are also particularly evident in the Cairo district of Al-Moski, which has some 4,000 street vendors.

According to Mohamed Ayman, Deputy Governor of the South Cairo area, “the cause of the problem is that people are trying to make a living by using the pavements and streets to sell products on, causing increasing traffic congestion. The problem has been due to the deteriorating financial conditions of these people, who cannot find jobs in the difficult economic conditions facing the country.”

 “There are some 6,000 vendors in Boulaq, Abdeen, Al-Moski and Al-Waily. These places are at the heart of the capital, and traffic jams caused by their activities bring circulation to a halt.”

 Ayman said that measures were being taken to redistribute current markets so that the vendors do not infringe on public property. “We are going to send the vendors to Al-Torguman on a temporary basis until we have been able to build a permanent market area in the Wabur Al-Talg area of Boulaq for around 3,000 shops,” he said.

“We are also planning to empty the Bulaq district, together with Al-Azbakiya, Al-Faggala, Ramses, Al-Tawfiqiya and Abdeen, of street vendors. We are planning to build a new market of 17,000 square metres in an area on three storeys. The idea is that it will have a basement and an administrative floor for government use that will be finished during Ramadan.”

The chairman of the Southern Giza District, Tayseer Abdel-Fattah, said that the problem of street vendors was “like a cat-and-mouse game.” The problem had been going on for some time, he said, “but whenever we organise campaigns to remove them, they come back again. After the 25 January Revolution, the problem increased such that if the number of street vendors was about 100 in 2010 it had become 600 to 700 in 2014. What made matters worse was that some of these vendors had come from other governorates, which is something we want to reverse.”

“In some cases, people cannot now walk in the squares because of the street vendors. We believe that the street vendors have rights, but pedestrians also have rights, as do car owners. Somehow we have to find a compromise such that all these people will be able to use the streets.  We have organised 16 meetings with street-vendor representatives, popular committees, and the local authorities, but thus far these have not solved the problem. Sometimes after we agree a deal the street vendors deny their relationship with their representatives.”

Ali, a street vendor on the junction of Al-Galaa Street and 26 July Street in downtown Cairo who lives near Wabur Al-Talg, had reservations about the government’s intention to move the vendors.

“Moving us to Al-Torguman will take a long time. We do not object to the idea, but there is the problem of red tape. They say that after the Eid Al-Adha (Greater Bairam) they will move us, but it will take customers a long time to find out where we have gone. We are ready to stay in any place, but I prefer Wabur Al-Talg. Customers are unlikely to want to climb four flights of stairs at the Al-Torguman Garage. Besides, the area is not very central, and it will be difficult to make sales.”

Emile, also a street vendor on Al-Galaa Street, comes in from Abboud everyday and believes that moving the vendors is not a bad idea. “I think that it is a good idea to go to Al-Torguman, but the problem is that they will give priority to people from Boulaq not those who commute every day from other governorates. Nevertheless, we are all waiting for action as up till now nothing has been done.”

Hassan Karem, a street vendor in Giza Square, agreed. “If there is a place for us, we are ready to go there. So far, no one has asked us to go anywhere or even asked us what we think. We come here every day to make a living, and we do not cause trouble.”

According to Abdel-Fattah, other solutions have been put forward, such as building 170 shops in Rabee Al-Giza Street, but the vendors refused to leave Giza Square despite the small distance between the two places. The authorities also built shops under the King Faisal Bridge, but the vendors refused to use them, citing the same arguments.

“We tried to make a third place for them near Giza Square next to the pedestrian tunnel, but they also refused, arguing that they would lose their customers. But this is not true as customers will go anywhere. There are some 300 street vendors in Giza Square alone who make the lives of millions of people more difficult every day. We have even resorted to asking them to help brainstorm solutions, but this didn’t work either. We have had cases of street fights between vendors over places they had rented on the streets themselves, which is totally unacceptable. They even bring their relatives with them, meaning that there can be up to five people selling products in one place.”

Ali put his solution in a nutshell: “there is an empty piece of land in Al-Sahafa Street which is currently used as a parking lot. They could send us there or to Wabur Al-Talg instead of Al-Torguman.” “People should stay in one place and stop fighting over places with others as we have been seeing a lot lately. We need stability so we can all make a living,” commented Karem.

Abdel-Fattah believes that there are solutions to the problem. “We have alternatives, like the space in front of the Al-Istiqama Mosque which we plan to put aside for them. The place could take some 75 shops, and the other place, near the pedestrian tunnel, could take about 300 shops for vendors who come from Giza.”

“After the past campaigns the number of vendors decreased and they went to side streets. But each governorate should do more to help, as if we in Giza open up more places for vendors commuting in from outside we will have 1,000 or more. In the near future, we intend to move the bus stops and build a shopping mall for street vendors behind the Giza government complex. The solution is being studied by governor of Giza Ali Abdel-Rahman as a possible permanent solution to the problem,” Abdel-Fattah said.

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