Egypt's street vendors face new restrictions

Egypt’s parliament is drafting a law regulating the work of street vendors, which would save street vendors from remaining under the mercy of local authorities.

al-monitor An Egyptian vegetable seller is seen at a market, Cairo, Egypt, May 10, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

Apr 24, 2018

CAIRO —The Egyptian parliament decided April 15 to prepare a law to unify the authority that issues permits for stores, street vendors and roadside open-air shops in Egypt. The law would end a clash between governmental authorities over new, easy and simple mechanisms that seek to eradicate corruption.

The law aims to merge the unregulated sector with the formal economy under state supervision, according to April 14 press statements by Mohammad al-Dami, the secretary-general of the local administration committee in the Egyptian parliament.

The presence of street vendors has been a major issue in Egypt, and security forces recently launched a wide-scale campaign to remove vendors obstructing traffic in neighborhoods in the Giza and Cairo governorates, specifically in Ataba Square.

Maj. Gen. Gamal Mohyi, the head of Al-Moski district, told the media April 18 that Cairo’s governor gave instructions not to allow the street vendors to return to the square and to the district.

Street vendors and owners of mobile food carts have been searching for a legal framework for their situation so that they won’t always be threatened with expulsion from their work in the street and could enjoy social and medical security.

Ahmad Sayed, a 50-year-old shoe seller in Ataba, told Al-Monitor, “Every vendor in Ataba dreams of opening their own licensed shop to avoid being under the mercy of the municipal and neighborhood head’s campaigns. But the law should take into account the situation of each vendor to secure their rights.”

Gamal, 20, who sells children’s toys, told Al-Monitor, “Some days, not one customer comes by for hours.” He noted that the sale and purchase activity in the public markets has been slow due to the economic situation. He called on parliament to think about the vendors’ economic situations before imposing charges on them.

Ali, who sells jeans on the street in Ataba, told Al-Monitor, “The high prices reduced the sales. Customers now buy one pair of jeans instead of three or four. As a result, sales have dropped.”

He added, “I do not mind paying fees that the government sets as long as they are reasonable and as long as I have a suitable place to work and my rights and dignity are protected.”

In downtown Cairo, bookseller Amr, 20, stands in front of the wall of the lawyers’ syndicate building, dusting off the legal books he had rolled out on the sidewalk. He told Al-Monitor that he has been selling books for five years without having legal papers and that he dreams of legalizing his situation and having a proper and dignified workplace.

Sleiman Fadel al-Umeiri, a member of the local administration committee in parliament, told Al-Monitor, “There is no need to be afraid of the law because it aims at legalizing their situation, organizing their work and controlling the market activity.” He said the law will ensure vendors’ dignity by granting them legal and registered licenses in the area where they live so that they can practice their trade freely and securely.

He added, “The fees will be determined based on the area and the activity, and the market activity in Egypt will be revived.”

Ahmed al-Sajini, head of the local administration committee in parliament, told Al-Monitor that the law aims to facilitate procedures for obtaining work licenses and for penalizing violators as part of a process to put vendors on the right track, under the government’s umbrella. He said the law unifying the formal and informal sectors will meet the needs of citizens, as it would curb corruption by uniting the authority issuing permits.

Mohammad Abdullah, the head of the syndicate of street vendors, said street vendors should not be evactuated from Ataba Square because they constitute an important part of the country’s economy and their situation must be examined before moving them to alternative markets. Otherwise, they will return to the streets again.

He told Al-Monitor, “There are four organized markets for street vendors in Cairo — Al-Zawiya al-Hamra garage, Ain Shams garage, Ahmed Hilmi Park and Ataba Square. The rent of the shops in these markets ranges between 150 and 400 Egyptian pounds per month [$8-$23].”

He said, “The street vendors return to the streets due to the oppressive conditions that Cairo governorate imposes, as it allows itself to expel any vendor without explanation or compensation.”

Abdullah called on the government to offer street vendors a suitable work environment and tools for success in any new markets to avoid a failure similar to the Al-Turjman market project. He said the number of customers has dropped since Cairo governorate opened Al-Turjman market in 2014 and moved street vendors there, given its location is far from vital areas and has poor means of communications.

Ahmad Mahrouss, the owner of a cart that serves ful (a popular dish of cooked fava beans) under Al-Sayeda Aisha Bridge, told Al-Monitor that the law puts the owners of carts selling ful and other foods at the mercy of local authorities, which is a source of suffering because some officials complicate matters unless they are bribed. Besides, he said, “a fee of 5,000 Egyptian pounds [$283] is imposed yearly on the cart owners to renew their work permits. I can either increase my prices or keep them as they are.”

He added, “The law imposed a one-month prison sentence and 20,000 Egyptian pound fine [$1,130] on any person violating the licensing provisions.” He added that cart owners will face difficulties adhering to the new rules, which include installing a GPS device on the cart to track its movement and location. “It will be hard to install GPS devices on our carts, unless the government provides new carts at reasonable prices.”

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