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How Cairo plans to solve its street vendor problem

Gov. Atef Abdel Hamid supports an innovative idea to deal with the suffocating spread of vendors in Cairo’s streets and the resulting violent clashes with police.

CAIRO — Cairo's ubiquitous street vendors are finally getting a place of their own. Gov. Atef Abdel Hamid, along with the Ministry of Local Development, recently launched Egypt Street, a project that aims to relocate the kiosks and carts of craftsmen and fast-food vendors into an area designated for them.

The governorate announced June 14 it initially has designated a 1,000-square-meter, state-owned plot in al-Nazha neighborhood as an experiment. The site doesn't encroach on residential areas and will be equipped with surveillance cameras for security.

After Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi launched a 2016 development campaign to encourage young Egyptians to establish small- and medium-sized enterprises, the Cairo governorate followed up with this project, which "aims to curb unemployment rates, regulate the work of street vendors, reduce road congestion and supervise the food offered to consumers through these carts," Abdel Hamid told Al-Monitor.

Abdel Hamid said an Egyptian company specializing in exhibitions would be setting up the area designated for kiosks. "The project will serve as a cultural and artistic recreational platform, which appeals to different social segments, so as to attract a large number of daily visitors to Egypt Street," he said. "The assigned company will also inspect the mobile kiosks, ensure compliance with cleanliness and civil protection standards, and collect the monthly fees and send back to the governorate an amount to be agreed upon based on the number of licenses granted to these [young] street vendors."

Street vendors and job seekers must meet certain conditions to receive licenses to take part in the project: They cannot be civil servants and they must be under 30 years old, personally operate the kiosks or carts and reside in the governorate. “Priority in granting the licenses is given to the residents of al-Nazha neighborhood, where the project is to be constructed,” Abdel Hamid said. 

The al-Nazha launch is set for Aug. 1. Officials will assess the pros and cons of the project for three months, and if the outcome is favorable, all Cairo neighborhoods will participate. The governorate will organize an extensive social media campaign to attract consumers and arts patrons.

Hala Abu al-Saad, deputy of parliament’s Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The project may raise Egyptian youths’ cultural awareness through the offered cultural and artistic content, including cultural seminars, artistic performances, concerts and art exhibitions." She called for harnessing the country's artistic and cultural potential to promote the project.

Mohamed Abdel Moneim al-Sawy, former minister of culture and founder of El Sawy Culture Wheel, told Al-Monitor the project is a cultural quantum leap by Egyptian standards.

"It is a platform offering diversified artistic and cultural content, such as the most popular music and singing performances and art exhibitions aimed to encourage junior artists," he said. "The project would also include seminars to discuss the problems of Egyptian society and develop relevant solutions, and participants would be allowed to express their views freely. This will substantially raise the citizens' awareness on various social issues."

Commenting on the lack of funding of similar projects, Sawy said, “Cultural artistic platforms should be established based on a participatory system between the organizing authority and the exhibitors, so that the revenue, whatever its size, can be split among them. Annual [token] subscription fees may be imposed on the neighborhood's residents. The neighborhood’s shops and companies are encouraged to sponsor such projects in return for an advertisement sign at the project’s venue.”

Mohamed al-Adham, former head of the Street Vendors Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “Most young street vendors will be encouraged by this experiment to obtain the necessary licenses. This would reduce clashes between street vendors and the local police and impose fines [for violations] varying according to the occupancy area and starting at 40 Egyptian pounds [about $2] per [square] meter."

He explained that during the chaos after the January 25 Revolution in 2011, street vendors randomly occupied public spaces, which led to confrontations with police. Since then, Egypt’s security authorities have clamped down on the vendors. In 2014, the Ministry of Interior tried to expel them from main commercial streets to lands specifically allocated to them, such as a large parking lot close to downtown. However, some of those new locations were abandoned zones that didn't attract customers, and vendors refused to relocate.

“Now that the security situation is under control, most of the street vendors are cooperating with the security authorities,” Adham said.

Ahmed Hussein, founder of the Street Vendors Syndicate, explained to Al-Monitor that vendors currently sell goods either by roaming the streets or moving around by public transportation.

He added, “Now that street vendors are selling their goods to the end consumer in a fixed spot … the syndicate is seeking to make sure these vendors give the state its due rights, such as taxes, rental fees and other duties, while at the same time obtaining from the state all of the rights they are entitled to, such as health care, pensions and decent treatment by the police in charge of protecting public facilities.”

Hussein said that the syndicate had submitted proposals for a project like Egypt Street to solve the problem of Egypt's 6 million street vendors based on experiences of other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey.

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