Police forces close downtown Cairo cafes

Police forces shut down a number of popular street cafés in downtown Cairo on Monday morning.

The Bursa area near the Egyptian Exchange, typically packed with plastic chairs, tables and people smoking shisha and playing backgammon, was almost empty by early afternoon.

This pedestrian-only zone has long served as a hub for ahwas (outdoor cafés). Three parallel streets in the district are home to fix or six ahwas each, differentiated only by the color of their plastic chairs.

Mohamed Masry, a worker at one Bursa ahwa, told Mada Masr that he wasn’t surprised by Monday’s clamp down.

“They are trying to clear the streets, but it’s normal. When there are more people here, we will put out the chairs,” he said. 

“It’s a game of cat and mouse,” explained Ahmed Hassan, a vendor who operates in the area. “The cat comes and the mouse runs, the cat come and the mouse runs.”

Police often come and order the removal of all the tables and chairs, but the ahwas always came back again, he said. Indeed, even as Hassan was talking, many chairs were already starting to refill the streets.

However, the ahwa operators do lose valuable working hours each time one of these raids occurs, Hassan added.

“When this happens, it makes it harder to work,” he explained. “The people who work here work to eat. They all have children who need to eat.”

While the law is technically on the side of the police when it comes to shutting the ahwas down, as most of them operate without a license, it would be more effective if a government official would work with the café owners to help them legalize, as opposed to forcing them out of the area, Hassan continued.

Both Hassan and Masry said they understood the government had ordered the streets cleared in order to make way for pedestrians and clear the clutter in downtown. Neither of them seemed overly concerned about the raids, particularly as the police did not stick around to ensure that the streets remained empty.

However, in a similar case this summer when security forces moved street vendors out of downtown, the authorities made sure they did not return by placing police and armed personnel carriers on the neighborhood’s most crowded streets.

According to Prime Minister Mehleb, the state officials ordered street vendors out of downtown in order to “reclaim” the city center, and help alleviate congestion in the traffic-plagued district.

However, many criticized government forces for this strong-armed approach, as well as for failing to make any long-term provisions for the street vendors.

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