Ever since the swearing in of Egypt’s current government, nationwide campaigns have taken place to rid Egypt's streets of unauthorised street vendors, prompting Cairo’s downtown street vendors to realise that they are staying on borrowed time.
Cairo’s governor issued a decision earlier in July to move downtown street vendors temporarily to Torgoman car park, causing a concern that it would congest the traffic in downtown Cairo and displace motorists. However, although vendors initially understood that all spaces would be available to them, the only spaces designated for vendors in the car park were bus stops while parking spots remained exclusively available to privately owned vehicles, a security source at Torgoman told Ahram Online.
Street vendors are expected to relocate by the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends on 27 July.
Now that the traffic problem has been resolved, the question remains whether street vendors will actually relocate to Torgoman for what the governorate promised to be four months. Following this period, vendors will be relocated to Wabour Al-Talg, a downtown mall yet to be constructed.
At the feet of customers
“I don't want to go to either place, I am on the corner of the street minding my own business…those who make these decisions are sitting comfortably in air conditioned rooms,” a street vendor, who wanted to be identified as Om Abdel-Rahman, told Ahram Online.
Om Abdel-Rahman, who displays her merchandise on a sheet spread on the sidewalk of one of downtown Cairo’s bustling streets, said she doesn’t want to move to either Torgoman or Wabour Al-Talg as customers will not show up.
“The customer stops by here because we have spread our products at their feet, they will not buy otherwise,” she said as she handed a customer a non-stick pan she had requested from her a couple of days earlier.
Another street vendor who spoke to Ahram Online on the condition of anonymity said that he does not understand why he has to relocate temporarily for four months before going to a permanent place.
The vendor, who has been selling kitchenware on the streets of Cairo for the past 24 years, said that early talks with the governorate all centred on the governorate’s promise to relocate the vendors to Wabour Al-Talg and that talks of a temporary move to Torgoman came as a surprise.
Head of the Street Vendors Syndicate, Ahmed Hussein, spoke with Ahram Online and expressed doubts that the move would only be for four months. Hussein added that although a bulldozer has been present at Wabour Al-Talg for over 30 days, construction has yet to begin.
Hussein added that during a meeting with Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, the minister referred to the location vendors would be temporarily relocated to as “Torgoman Mall,” which made the vendors believe they would take the deserted shops in Torgoman which are estimated to number over 3,000.
Hussein stated that they were over the moon, until they arrived at Torgoman and instead found numbered plots laid on the ground outside the building.
He added that they do not hold this against the prime minister and that there may have been a misunderstanding on the part of the vendors. Nonetheless, he insisted that the new arrangement does not provide order and is “just as erratic as the old one.”
Hussein complained that Cairo’s governor wants to get rid of the street vendors by any means necessary, even if it’s through unsuitable solutions, which is contrary to El-Sisi’s directions that an “appropriate place be found to solve the problem and please both sides.”
He said that any conflict can be avoided if the Cairo governorate shows good faith and starts construction work in Wabour Al-Talg.
“The vendors can sacrifice for four months and relocate to Torgoman if they see that the governorate cares and is being transparent with them,” Hussein stated.
Answering a question on the vendors’ reactions when they are asked to relocate after 27 July, Hussein said that “no one knows the reaction of the vendors when the police start moving them.”
However, the governorate knows exactly what it will do if the street vendors refuse to evacuate.
Khaled Mostafa, spokesman of Cairo governorate, told Ahram Online that since the governorate provided an alternative for street vendors to display their products, the governorate will “start to activate and apply the law” if the vendors do not move by 27 July.
He added that the law would allow authorities to seize the street vendors’ merchandise and refer them to the prosecution where a handful of charges await them. Possible charges, according to the spokesman, include blocking roads and selling goods without a permit.
Mostafa said that it is a popular demand to rid downtown Cairo of street vendors to preserve the capital’s heritage.
He added that the reallocation of street vendors would benefit them, as the government can now provide them with security, services and take a census of the workers.
As to the fears of street vendors that customers will not go to Torgoman, Mostafa said similar fears were previously expressed when the government decided to start a market in Obour City. The market, located in Obour at the far end of Cairo and away from inhabitants, was initially claimed to be too far away and dubbed a failure. However, the market has become one of the most successful markets in Egypt, Mostafa stated.
The spokesman said Wabour Al-Talg mall, scheduled to be built in Al-Galaa Street in downtown Cairo, belongs to land owned by the investment ministry, which is overseeing its construction.
“The investment minister assured us the construction would be completed within four months,” Mostafa said, adding that the governorate has no role in the construction of the mall.
Mostafa concluded by saying that “the hope is when Ramadan ends, [vendors] will not be in the streets of downtown.”