In the early hours of Sunday, police and military personnel began clearing street vendors from downtown Cairo’s Ramses Square in order to temporarily relocate them to the Ahmed Helmy Station.
The sweep is part of the second phase of the Cairo Governorate’s plan to move vendors out of downtown. Phase one was completed eight months ago, when street vendors were relocated from Talaat Harb Street, Qasr al-Nil Street, Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street and Abdel Moneim Riyad Square to the Turgoman parking complex.
The vendors were told that their stalls at Turgoman were only temporary, and they would ultimately be relocated to an abandoned piece of land in Abdel Moneim Riyad.
The move was swift. Vendors were asked to submit requests for a space in the parking complex, then municipal authorities collected their information and allocated them stalls.
Vendors only take up 10 percent of the Turgoman parking garage, which according to Cairo Governor Mostafa al-Said can house around 1,750 vendors. The sellers have complained that the space is polluted by a strong stench that renders half of it unfit for use.
Many abandoned their stalls after suffering steep losses in sales, according to one vendor who asked to remain anonymous.
“The area is dead,” he says. “The government promised to relocate us to the bus stop so people can walk past us,” but that promise has yet to be fulfilled.
The vendors were supposed to be able to set up their wares on free land in Abdel Moneim Riyad six months after the original move, but eight months later, they’re still in Turgoman.
Another vendor says that the municipality recently renewed their identification cards, prompting some to wonder if officials really intend to relocate them out of the parking lot at all.
Mohamed Ayman Abdel Tawab, deputy governor for West Cairo, is in charge of vendors and alternative markets. He says that plans for the new spot in Abdel Moneim Riyad have been suspended, and that another area in Zawya al-Hamra is being prepared for the vendors.
Sellers who left Turgoman because of the slowdown in business will not be entitled to a spot at Zawya al-Hamra, Abdel Tawab adds.
The Turgoman parking complex is divided into 550 numbered stalls that are each designated to one vendor, according to Abdel Tawab. The place is supposed to host vendors coming from two different areas: Ramses vendors, who are affiliated with the Azbakeya police station, and Ahmed Helmy vendors affiliated with the Shubra police station. The Ahmed Helmy group claims there are only 30 stalls allocated for them, with the Ramses vendors dominating the rest.
Yasser Arafat Abou Zeid, who has sold tea for the past 10 years at Ahmed Helmy Station, says the government now is opting to remove him from the Turgoman parking complex because he couldn’t find a spot.
“The government brought the Ramses vendors together with the Ahmed Helmy vendors in the same place, without calculating the stalls,” he claims.
Another Ahmed Helmy vendor says his spot is far too small to conduct business.
“The government is supposed to remove the fences so people can walk by and see us,” says the vendor, who preferred to remain anonymous. He asks how these small stalls can be used to display clothes for sale, and how the merchandise can be protected.
“The stalls are mobile so they can be replaced, but are easily stolen. Who will protect our merchandise?” he asks.
But the Ramses vendors say they have problems of their own.
Hamdel Abdel Halim, 62, has been working as a vendor in Ramses for the past 45 years. The municipality promised that a spot would be allocated for him in Turgoman due to his health condition — he was shot in clashes in Ramses in August 2013. But when he applied for a spot at the parking complex, Halim was told that his name was omitted from the list for undisclosed reasons.
Ibrahim Torky Ibrahim has a different problem. Guidelines at the parking complex stipulate that vendors cannot sell food or beverages.
“Where do I get LE2,000 to buy clothes and sell them at the new complex?” he asks. “I’ve been selling chips and candy and tea my whole life, and that’s all I know.”
Ibrahim’s problem is similar to another vendor’s. Hanan Omar Ali started selling tea to support her family after her husband got sick. The family used to receive an LE415 pension, but that was canceled after she got a spot at the parking complex.
After losing her monthly pension, she then found she couldn’t sell tea at the complex, and doesn’t have the capital to start a new venture.
Shahir George, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who has worked on vendors’ issues, argues that the problem won’t be resolved by resorting to security forces.
“Relocating vendors isn’t the solution without studying the legislation regulating vendors’ work, as well as trying to understand the social and economic factors behind the phenomenon,” he says.
Most of these vendors and their families are deprived of basic necessities under the pretext of “preserving a civilized façade,” given that this is their only means of income, George continues.
Abdel Tawab says that the Ramses vendors who were relocated to Ahmed Helmy will settle in their new stalls “as long as we don’t need the area for anything.” He explains that the Ramses vendors who didn’t get stalls at Ahmed Helmy will be moved to Turgoman.
But now that eight months have passed since phase one was completed, the problems only continue to accumulate — making phase two appear like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.