Egyptian government cracks down on street vendors

Street vendors make up more than 15% of Egypt's labour force. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Street vendors make up more than 15% of Egypt's labour force. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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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."

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    محمد

    2014-6-18

    Please rid us of street vendors once and for all because they are the reason behind all disasters, sexual harassment and traffic problems in Egypt

  • عارف سليم

    2011-11-4

    I think that the Egyptian government should take the necessary measures to put a limit to the phenomenon of the spread of vendors on sidewalks, in order to protect the Egyptian citizens’ public health. Many of this merchandise is used, especially the clothes that are called “Balat” in the colloquial language. These clothes transfer skin diseases, which could spread many diseases in the Egyptian society. I see that the revolution’s success in Egypt and acquiring freedom does not mean that laws should be broken in the name of personal freedom, because this does not serve the interests of Egypt and its people. Laws should be applied and should be adhered to for the public interest, which is why the phenomenon of street vendors on sidewalks should be limited, so as not to distort the public image of the cities and the streets in Egypt.

  • مرتض

    2011-11-4

    After the revolution’s success in Egypt, I see that there are many negative phenomena that appeared in a remarkable way. The first of these phenomena is that of street vendors, who are spread all over Egypt and have contributed to filling sidewalks and streets with their settings that kept expanding after the revolution’s end in Egypt. This is considered a negative phenomenon that distorts the public image and blocks the road before the commoners. Such a state should be dealt with and we should get rid of this phenomenon. Therefore, I see that it is necessary for the Egyptian government to put an end and a limit to the phenomenon of street vendors to control the markets and the merchandise that comes into Egypt. The phenomenon of street vendors on sidewalks has a very negative impact, which I believe will greatly damage the trade movement in Egypt, because many citizens have a great willingness to frequent them for their decreased prices. This has also affected the owners of commercial shops and/or the traders themselves. The reduced prices of street vendors result from the fact that they got most of the goods they sell from smuggling operations that might have started to contribute to allowing many goods into the Egyptian markets.

  • صفاء غانم

    2011-10-28

    I hope Egypt’s streets will be as beautiful as they used to be, and that they will look wonderful. I hope the people will get rid of oppression and tyranny and being chased by the government. This is a result of their staying on the streets and sidewalks to get money by selling merchandise. But they have always lived in a state of panic and fear as a result of the police and municipality chasing them, because they trespass on public and private property. As such, there’d better be an alternative solution instead of just removing this phenomenon altogether in a way that causes harm to street vendors, because they are simple poor people who are in need of help. They need to be provided with a space in which they can earn their living. They should not be harmed, because they have suffered for a long time. Instead, solutions must be put in place to ensure their comfort and to end the state of fear, panic and terror they used to live in, in addition to preserving the beauty of the Egyptian streets and sidewalks.

  • سالم صقر

    2011-10-28

    It is necessary for the Egyptian government to put a limit to the phenomenon of street vendors. Modernity and civilization are beautiful things.

  • شامل علي

    2011-10-28

    The Egyptian government has to put a limit to the phenomenon of street vendors and to allocate shops, even if they are small, for them to earn their living in a legal way, so that people will continue to be able to earn their living, especially those with families, children and women. As such, it is very crucial to give attention to all the signs of civilization and progress and to terminate the phenomenon of violating the space of sidewalks and streets that greatly harm citizens’ movement and distort the image of the streets, which are now empty of all the beauty and wonderfulness of the Egyptian streets. Therefore, I think that the owners of merchandise and street vendors who sit on Egyptian streets and sidewalks should be compensated, so that they can sell goods and make money in an honorable way. This would be a good thing that would allow for people to earn their living in rightful ways that satisfies God. However, they should not be fought or attacked, because they are Egyptians who suffered from poverty, hunger, deprivation, defaulting and negligence under the old Egyptian government. They have always been chased by the government and the police. Therefore, it is very crucial for the current government to compensate those people and to work on providing them with services. In return, sidewalks will be emptied of street vendors who cause suffocating crowding for the citizens, who suffer from the difficulty of heat, and walking and moving from one street to the other.

  • عادل صدقي

    2011-10-28

    To be honest, I disagree with the Egyptian government and with those who call for the reduction of the phenomenon of selling on the streets. I have one simple question to ask: Did the Egyptian government provide an alternative to those poor people who displayed their goods on the streets, so as to put food on the table? If that was the case, and the government was able to give them an alternative by creating job opportunities for them, I would have been the first to call for an end to this phenomenon; But I am aware of the current situation in Egypt, and I am aware of the poverty level that these poor Egyptian people have reached as a result of the economic crisis and the stupid policies which were followed by Hosni and his government in the past. This has made the Egyptians hit the bottom, and the differences between Egyptian social classes have become huge. The Egyptian government should create well-structured and organized markets for those sellers first, and then ask them to move to them. It should not expel those vendors off the streets without taking the consequences into consideration, namely the displacement of many families. This may push the Egyptians to take revenge on the government by carrying out unwanted acts of violence, strikes or sit-ins, in the current situation that Egypt has been living in since the revolution.

  • كامل اسعد

    2011-10-25

    Street hawkers are spreading in great numbers on the sidewalks of Cairo and everywhere else. This is quite an annoying scene. The government has to relieve citizens of this problem, because they cannot walk on the sidewalks that are dedicated to pedestrians, because of the small carts and rugs of the hawkers. I am not against the fact that they earn their living on the sidewalks, but it should be done in a different way or reorganized. We cannot walk comfortably anymore, because of their big numbers. The duty of the Egyptian government and the municipalities is to provide a solution to this problem by building a market for the hawkers or giving them specific places where they can sell their products. The idea is to control this annoying and disgraceful phenomenon.

  • كريم غان

    2011-10-11

    Yes, why not? The Egyptians are heroes, as they have achieved what no other people before them dreamt of. They have insisted on getting the snake out of its hiding place, kill it and poison it, so they are now able to carry out better matters than before. Tourism in Egypt will remain first and last, regardless of how the conditions have changed. The Egyptians have a great role in the progress in terms of tourist development, and we all know that Egypt contains Alexandria, Sharm El Sheikh and other very important regions, as well as the more beautiful North Coast. This invites us to pay attention to the Egyptian issue and the matter of their progress and development. In my opinion, tourism in Egypt will continue to be the first and the last in all the Arab countries, and it will advance more and more, and its revenues will be greater than before, because at the present time there is no stealing or commissions for special persons or for the state only, but everyone living in Egypt will live in a state of safety, security and stability, and this is what we will watch with our own eyes, God willing. We pray for them with all the goodness and blessings, and we call on them not to feel afraid or disturbed about unimportant matters. The most important thing in that regard is to be more merciful towards those who do not have enough money, and to be good and virtuous people, so that all the Arab countries will be proud of them and meet all their requirements. The state in Egypt is better than before and security stability is required, while the most important thing is how we can return everything to its right place and make it better than before, and God willing, all the good and the blessings to all the Arab nations and to the lovely, heroic Egyptian people.