Egypt street vendors find a new home

Street vendors are being relocated to a newly established market at al-Turgoman car park in Cairo. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Street vendors are being relocated to a newly established market at al-Turgoman car park in Cairo. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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Cairo street vendor Salim Odah cheerfully moved his goods to a new market at al-Turgoman car park, established by the authorities to curb the proliferation of street vendors in the city centre.

"I can finally display my goods in the same space every day without fearing the police will confiscate them or other vendors will take my spot," said Odah, who is a member of Egypt's Street Vendors Union.

Two decades ago, fewer vendors roamed the streets, Odah told Al-Shorfa.

The police and local authorities had their data and they were allowed to move from area to area and display their goods on pavements at certain times in designated areas and streets, he said.

"Now they number in the thousands and the occupation has become synonymous with chaos," he said, describing the government's recent decision to relocate the vendors as "necessary and correct".

Work is under way to move vendors off the streets, he said, particularly in downtown areas such as 26th July Street and Talaat Harb square.

The authorities began moving vendors off the Cairo streets after the prime minister's office ruled that they be moved to alternate locations, said Raed al-Salamouni, a Cairo governorate market inspector.

The ministries of finance, local development, investment and interior are enforcing the decision in partnership with the Cairo governorate and private sector companies, he said.

"Implementation was divided into two phases," al-Salamouni said. "The first called for turning a massive car park -- al-Turgoman, near downtown in Boulaq al-Dakrour -- into a huge market with a capacity of 3,000 vendors, big enough to accommodate all the vendors in the Cairo area and its environs."

Each vendor will be assigned a designated space for a nominal monthly fee, al-Salamouni said.

"This is a temporary solution until the completion of the second and final phase, which entails the construction of a central market, which has already begun in Wabur al-Talg on al-Galaa Street near downtown," he said.

The central market, which will cost an estimated 55 million pounds ($7.7 million), will comprise several floors of 11,000 square metres and is expected to be completed in a few months, he said.

A census to identify and register the street vendors who will benefit from the market is now under way, he said, and the information of 1,100 vendors has been processed to date.

Spaces will be assigned through a lottery system, he added.

Al-Salamouni said he was optimistic the new measures would "bring the street vendor problem under control, put a stop to acts of thuggery on the streets and enable the competent authorities to monitor goods and verify their sources, quality and conformity to the required specifications".

Protecting downtown shop owners

The presence of vendors in the downtown streets has harmed the area, said Cairo resident Mustafa al-Budairi.

"Many people prefer to stroll these streets and markets for their beauty, distinctiveness and cafés," he told Al-Shorfa. "However, that was impossible with the vendors around because of their constant shouting, quarrelling and occupation of pedestrian pavements."

"Now, however, after the vendors were moved to their own market, the situation is very different, and whoever wants to buy from them is free to go to their market," he said.

"The time has come to do away with the problem of street vendors, whose presence has done a great deal of harm to downtown shop owners," downtown shop owner Magdi Yassin told Al-Shorfa.

"Their presence has chased away citizens and visitors to Cairo from the downtown area on account of the severe overcrowding they caused, for they had turned the area into a huge popular market," he said.

Yassin said moving the street vendors to a central location would not hurt their businesses.

"They sell products that customers may not find in ordinary stores," he said. "Moreover, the prices of many of their products are suitable for the low-income segments of the population."