Egyptian officials say street vendors have become rampant in the country's main cities since security relaxed after the January 25 revolution. No street or square is free of vendors, who spread their goods of all types on the ground and sell them for less than market prices.
Although street vending is not a new phenomenon in Egypt, before the revolution it had been limited to holiday seasons and the start of the school year, according to Omaima Mohiuddin of the Chamber of Commerce in the Ministry of Commerce.
"[Street vendors] are an eyesore on the landscape of Cairo and other cities, and have affected tourism, which is already ailing," said Mohiuddin. "They also harm the Egyptian economy, especially since a lot of vendors sell smuggled goods and non-conforming items such as harmful children's toys, as well as clothing that may cause skin diseases and allergies."
Mohiuddin said the damage caused by the proliferation of street vendors extends to commercial shop owners.
"The public turns to street vendors because their prices are lower than shop prices by as much as 60 percent, as street vendors do not pay sales tax or other taxes and expenses incurred by shop owners," she said.
According to Chamber of Commerce data for this year, there are more than four million street vendors in the Republic, representing more than 15% of the total labour force in Egypt.
The Interior Ministry launched a security plan in mid-September to curb the proliferation of street vendors and co-ordinate with the Ministry of Commerce to provide new spaces for markets to be reserved for street and cart vendors.
Mohiuddin said studies have been conducted on the issue, particularly about how to institute controls and binding laws for vendors. She added that the planning and implementation phases are underway by the Ministries of Commerce and the Interior and Governors, especially in Cairo and Alexandria provinces, where the problem is most rampant.
Fawaz Sharaf, a captain in the Egyptian police, said he participated in recent crackdowns in the streets around Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo.
He told Al-Shorfa that the street vendor phenomenon has become a "source of concern and a nuisance to the public, and caused many traffic jams at the start of the school year".
Fawaz said the security crackdown is currently focusing on the most congested areas, particularly at the entrances of metro stations in the capital, which attract many vendors.
Hassanein al-Gahr was a street vendor selling mobile phones and accessories on a sidewalk near Tahrir Square, but was forced to vacate his spot during the security crackdown.
Hassanein told Al-Shorfa that after earning a Bachelor degree in Commerce from the University of Cairo he was unable to find work in his field, as is the case with many young graduates. So, he decided to become a street vendor rather than remain unemployed.
"With the surge in street vendors after the revolution, I set up shop in a good location near Tahrir Square and displayed my goods, which are imported from China. They are in high demand because their prices are very low compared to prices of genuine products," he said.
Although he regrets losing his spot as result of the intense crackdown, he nevertheless believes [the crackdown] "was very necessary, because battles between vendors were becoming rampant in many neighbourhoods and the situation had become unbearable".
He said he will resume roaming the streets of Cairo but will not return to the sidewalks for fear of being hounded by police.
Islam al-Ali, owner of a shop that sells ready-made garments in Cairo, said the crackdown is beginning to take effect and customers are returning to the shops.
"The damage was considerable in the past period, to the point that even our price discounts were ineffective," he said. "The same products, sometimes bought from the same wholesaler, were being sold on the sidewalk for less because street vendors are not burdened with expenses."