Vendors flock to Egypt's metro stations

Vendors are increasingly setting up shop on the ground in front of Cairo's metro stations. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Vendors are increasingly setting up shop on the ground in front of Cairo's metro stations. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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Fatima Saeed has no difficulty doing her daily shopping. There are plenty of places to shop along the metro line she takes to work, as station entrances and tunnels are now crammed with vendors who spread their wares, from vegetables to household items, on the ground.

Saeed, a government employee in Cairo, used to race to make her daily purchases, either leaving her house early before heading to work, or shopping on her way home.

Now, however, the profusion of vendors at metro stations enables her to find fruits, vegetables, household items, toys and even school supplies, she said.

Saeed said she shops in metro stations out of necessity, as walking and shopping downtown has become rather dangerous due to the political protests and clashes that can occur there.

Vendors have spread out

"The spread of metro markets is attributable mainly to the tense security situation in the areas that were designated as sites for 'one-day markets', which are squares turned into shopping areas to curb the roaming vendor phenomenon," Raed al-Salmouni, a markets inspector in Cairo province, told Al-Shorfa.

"Vendors have spread out once again and have found metro stations to be great locations for plying their trade," he said.

Some metro stations have been observed to do brisk business, he said, such as Sadat station, the main station in Tahrir Square, al-Ataba and al-Shuhada metro stations, as well as others in lower income areas such as Dar el-Salam, al-Marg, Faisal and Halwan.

Additionally, a marked increase has been observed in the number of cart vendors selling sandwiches and foul (fava beans), a staple of low-income citizens.

The latest survey conducted by the Cairo Chamber of Commerce put the number of roaming vendors in metro stations at more than 20,000, al-Salmouni said – 15,000 of whom were to have been absorbed by the one-day markets.

The number of vendors in some metro stations, such as Halwan, Dar el-Salam, al-Marg and Faisal, is more than 500, he added, a number which decreases in proportion to the size of the station.

The number of street vendors has risen significantly in recent months, growing to nearly 4.5 million in 2012 from four million in 2011, according to the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.

"That is a significant percentage of the overall workforce in Egypt," al-Salmouni said.

Residents of some areas have filed official complaints over the metro stations in their area turning into large popular markets, he said.

These complaints have been given careful consideration and vendors have been persuaded to move out of the metro station and limit their presence to the exterior entrances, he said.

Once calm returns to central Cairo, vendors will return to the one-day markets, al-Salmouni said. Cairo province and other provinces on the metro line also are in the process of developing an urgent plan to expand the concept of the one-day market to areas outside central Cairo.

This concept will eventually roll out to every metro-accessible area in order to put an end to the proliferation of street and sidewalk vendors and clean up metro stations, he said.

Security situation contributed to growth

Abdel Wahab Hassan, a vendor positioned in front of one of the stations, told Al-Shorfa he had applied with the authorities for a spot in the one-day markets.

But the security situation has made it impossible for those markets to take place, he said, forcing him and other roaming vendors to set up once again at metro stations.

Most merchants occupy spots at the entrances of the stations, he said, while others spread their wares inside the stations and even inside subway cars. He said this is going too far, as it defaces the stations and hinders the movement of passengers.

Hassan said this arrangement has been excellent for sellers, however, as people have become accustomed to these new markets and each vendor has his own regular customers.

"The sight of vendors in front of and inside metro stations is very displeasing," Talaat Yahya, a secondary school teacher, told Al-Shorfa. "It is senseless to turn stations into popular markets in this manner."

Endless verbal spats and quarrels erupt between the shop owners and vendors positioned in front of metro stations, he said.

"Furthermore, the congestion caused by shopping passengers has dramatically exacerbated the metro station overcrowding, causing delays for many commuters", he said.

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    على زايد

    2013-3-25

    I swear by Allah that our appearance is no longer good now in Egypt. Everything, even the metro, that was considered the best thing in Egypt, became awful. What is seen from hawkers inside the metro is enough, it's getting strange. We used to see only one or two, now they are more than passengers. What can we call this? Nothing but carelessness. There should be police for the metro to handle any violations and those who commit them get punished. But unfortunately, after the revolution everything went wrong. People do what they want. We can say that we live a period of anarchy. May God protect Egypt.

  • مراد علاء

    2013-3-24

    This is bad. The way Egypt looks now is really infuriating. Do the street vendors have to do this in Metro stations? There is plenty of space out there so they should go any other place in which they can make a living. There are really myriad of complaints due to the severe overcrowding at Metro stations since now all Egyptians head to the Metro stations and buy stuff from street vendors over there. The other problem is that this will make things harder for Egyptian people due to the theft incidents resulting from the overcrowding. In addition, girls and ladies get harassed, so I hope there will be a law to control the street vendors in these places.

  • منار سليمان

    2013-3-24

    Most Metro stations seem very disgusting, and this is a new plague. In the aftermath of the revolution and due to the lack of adequate and forceful presence of security forces as it was in the past, things have started to take a down turn in the Metro stations. At every corner, street vendors disrupt the landscape of the Metro stations. Is this going to be how things will remain forever or what? The Egyptian government and the police must tackle this plague so that the Metro may once again appear how it used to be in the past. In the beginning, the metro was very organized, regulated, clean and orderly, and we all adhered to the guidelines. Back in the day, one would feel that they are in a European country, but they would now feel as if though they are in a ghetto. This is due to the large number of street vendors, who are actually trying to make a living. However, this should not be the way. The government can provide them with stores within the Metro stations. But the current image is a disgrace to the Metro and its history and prestige in the eyes of Egyptians.

  • صلاح رسلان

    2013-3-24

    Truly this is wrong of the vendors, what they do in metros is not right, is it narrow out there to have to come here in the underground and do this! By the way, we are not angry, but all vendors crowd in one place and it is strange that the people deal with them and buy from them. It has reached the extent that people go especially to buy from them, not just because they are on their way home, no, they go for them, but we hope there is some discipline to keep the image of metro stations.

  • مازن احمد

    2013-3-24

    What do you expect from a people who lived all their life looking for their livelihood, praise is to God, they don't get any help or training from officials of Egypt, rather, we notice youth go to university and graduate with highest grades, yet we see them now among those vendors whom you are talking about now, meanwhile we see the lower educated are employed in prestigious posts because they have got the middle power that helped them occupy highest positions and ranks now; you search for solution to those vendors now because they are not the suitable or appropriate civilized interface of Egyptians; you did it to yourselves, you want to organize roads in subways, go and find these vendors places for them, but I hope you don't ask them for taxes or other things; sorrowfully there is no reaction or procedure take by officials towards those vendors as if they don't exist and as if these officials don't care about this issue. But I hope them leave these vendors alone and there is no need to such reactions and we don't want to talk nonsense.

  • محمود الشمرى

    2013-3-23

    I request mainstreaming these markets in all cities of Egypt because they will solve many problems and they are civilized places – job opportunities with possible rent- revenue for the state due to this rent and through issuing the permissions for sellers- observing and monitoring such markets, their cleanliness, security and preventing thugs and their taxes…Working hours are to be specified, then the market closes its doors…If these markets are spread all over Egypt, they will include and contain big numbers of youth. God is with you Egypt.

  • مريم الاحمدى

    2013-3-23

    This is true ignorance and poverty…How can such ancient old mosque be surrounded by thugs of sellers who settle there, not vendors? Fear God, this is your religion and the surroundings of the mosque is full of vendors, but most of them are thugs and drug dealers. Also there are thugs who impose taxes and take money by force on parking the cars along Al Azhar street, El Darrashah and Bab El Nasr, that is the surroundings of El Hussien Mosque and I don't realize what is the role of police?? Also other cafes such as El Fishawi and other…They settle in more than half the square of El Hussein, the police just watches before and after the revolution, where is Egypt going to? I ask the police of El Gamaliah police station to arrest these thugs and drug dealers who dominate more and more, where is Egypt going to?

  • مزيد محمد

    2013-3-23

    O God have mercy on us, at last there is a chance for us to express about what we see with our own eyes day and night in metro stations which became doll-like train stations. Since we used the metro last millennium we never faced what we see now because vendors cause jams to the degree that we can't mount the train, then we wait for successive metros which never happened before; consequently, the Ministry of Transport is obliged in front of us to stop these vendors from causing this random crowding. I feel afraid to talk to any of them, he may hurt me, and then I say thank God I had the chance to let my anger out.

  • سلطان وسيم

    2013-3-23

    They try to get out of poverty to get some livelihood, they don't want more than this; they are wrong and mistaken and we can't allow them to do this in the metro station which they make their centers and platforms for vendors. It is impossible for them to get a chance and work in the government or the private sector which is crowded with employers. I think they are unable to rent shops in Cairo, so they do whatever they can to earn their livelihood. I don't defend them, it is the duty of the government of Egypt to defend them, and meanwhile it should not allow them to remain in metro stations; the government must find other solutions for them for metro without vendors; during the thug corrupt thief remnant Mubarak none dared to throw a cigarette butt, but who lives in Morsi's age sees wandering of wanderers. If Morsi and his government feared God, forgot the past and looked with us to the future, conditions would have been different.

  • محمد عزت

    2013-3-23

    There is no power except from God, under the tragedy witnessed by the Egyptian people nowadays, especially in Cairo, and the disputes among the people themselves. It encourages the vendors to occupy such places which they resort to as their only shelter to earn their living and to be their center. Why not, particularly as it witnesses large crowds and meantime the Egyptian people like these vendors on their way home after a long day's work, so they buy their needs in the metro as long as the government and the police in the metro stations agree to this; so let it go as it is in the stations of the metro in Egypt and there is no need to take any decision against these vendors that might ruin them. We suffer the changes of life in Egypt from everywhere, so we are with these vendors and we don't forget to mention that this is the harvest of the Egyptian government. These vendors have higher studies certificates, some carry PHD and others carry MA degrees, yet they are jobless, and they are forced to be vendors to earn their livelihood, God willing.

  • سعيد حساسين

    2013-3-23

    So what? Let them sit as long as they do not harm anyone. The unemployment rates became very high and the only solution before the youth is to get some goods to sell. If the government or some people do not like the scene in the metro station, then provide them with jobs so they can stop working as hawkers. I swear I sympathize with those youth because you ask them and find that some of them hold bachelor’s degrees and even higher academic qualifications. They either sell goods in the metro station or steal. I think that work is more honorable and better one million times.

  • دينا محمد

    2013-3-23

    Congratulations to the Egyptian people for the heinous scenes in the subway stations. We had been dreaming of seeing such a huge project in the country. Today, the stations are abounding with vendors displaying various types of merchandise. The vendors' stalls scattered everywhere in the subway station are in a total mess. The subway stations have turned into unorganized flea markets. You could buy various sorts of food and meals. This farce must come to an end as soon as possible. The Government was supposed to issue a law to organize the activities of the vendors in order to prevent the exacerbation of this phenomenon. The vendors are spoiling the subway stations. The Egyptian people are not happy with the current situation of the subway stations. I admit that one’s livelihood depends on God Almighty but could not express myself in another way. The subways are spoiled. Only God could help Egypt.

  • مروه سلطان

    2013-3-22

    I swear that what is happening is really prohibited and unfair, as it targets the hawkers who try to make their living lawfully. However, you will regret what you are doing now and neglecting the rights of this group of the people. They are normal citizens not foreigners. We know that there are no jobs now, so how can we force the hawkers to leave the metro stations? If they did so, when will they make a living, especially given that this is all they can do to make money? If we asked the government to take care of them, it will demand taxes, tariffs and so on. What we hear today is absurd.

  • محمد على

    2013-3-22

    Unfortunately, there is a very dangerous phenomenon, which spoils the reputation of the country in an uncivilized way. We have to end this issue through the interference of the transport police. Stop destroying this country.

  • فهد مصعب

    2013-3-22

    There is no power except from God. In the tragedy witnessed by the Egyptian people nowadays, especially in Cairo, and the disputes among the people themselves, it encourages the vendors to occupy such places which they resort to as their only shelter to earn their living and to be their center. Why not, particularly as it witnesses much crowding, and meantime the Egyptian people like these vendors on their way home after a long day's work, so they buy their needs in the metro as long as the government and the police in the metro stations agree to this. So let it continue as it is in the stations of the metro in Egypt, and there is no need to take any decision against these vendors that might ruin them. We suffer the changes of life in Egypt from everywhere, so we are with these vendors and we don't forget to mention that this is the harvest of the Egyptian government. These vendors have higher studies certificates, some carry PHDs and others carry MA degrees, yet they are jobless, and they are forced to be vendors to earn their livelihood, God willing.

  • أسامة مشعل

    2013-3-21

    What is wrong with them sitting there, they will not harm anyone at all, as long as unemployment spread all over the country; what can youth do? They try to sell anything and if the government and some people don't like this scenery in metro stations, well instead of being vendors, give them a job or shops in low rents and I assure you they will never go there again. O God these young men are pitiful! The more sorrowful is that when you talk to any of them, you find out that they are university graduates or even higher studies graduates; they have nothing to do but two ways either to earn their livelihood in this way in metro or other places or they steal. I think this is better and more honorable.

  • فارس احمد

    2013-3-21

    The difficult conditions of Egypt may urge them to do anything. For instance, the exposition of goods in metro stations is caused by the Government’s neglect of the youth since each exhibition has its reasons. Thus, the Egyptian Government has made people who know how to behave since need is the mother of invention. Therefore, the need of Egyptians to earn a living urged them to sell napkins and flowers and to be ambulant merchants. Yet, if the situation in the country was better, these youth would work in productive fields such as factories etc and their conditions are made easier. Indeed, I believe that the Government must prevent them from making these violations but in light of this total vacuum of the Egyptian youth, I do not think that it is fair to prevent them or violate them. I do not mean that the situation should remain as such in metros but we should immediately find alternative solutions before punishing these youth. If we provide them with these alternatives, we could punish them and speak about these violations. If these youth are attacked like thieves and outlaws, I believe that the Egyptian Government is not only failing to solve the problem of random people living in subways but also paving the way for extremism.