Ramses Street vendors defy state efforts to evict them

A week after being violently evacuated by police and military forces, street vendors in Ramses Square are still in business and have started a campaign, starting with a march on Sunday and the creation of a page on Facebook, to demand better rights.

The vendors are demanding that officials find alternative sources of income if they insist on their evacuation. They are also demanding the release of vendors arrested on 26 March, some of whom are feared to have received military sentences. They also demand the creation of an association to fight for their rights.

On 26 March, police and military forces violently dispersed street vendors in Ramses Square, arresting some of them and confiscating some of their merchandise.

Several days after the attack, street vendors were back in the square, retreating into side streets several times each day in order to avoid being forcibly expelled. Meanwhile, vendors in other areas, such as Ataba, Giza Square and Tahrir Street were not disturbed by police.

The vendors, who have been relying on their stands in Ramses Square as their only source of income for decades, say that they have nowhere else to go.

“They should either employ us or let us be,” says Ibrahim Mohamed, a college graduate who has turned to selling clothes in Ramses to support his family of five after he failed to find a job.

Saadeya Hegazy, a 70-year-old widow who sells toys in the square, wonders how else she can support her household on a monthly pension of LE105.

Ayman, a college student who sells DVDs in Ramses Square to support himself, says that if the state cuts off the street vendors’ source of income, they will be responsible for turning them into thugs.

Sayed Habashy started selling hardware in the square after his masters degree in law proved insufficient to securing him a job. He says that the state bears responsibility for creating substitute sources of income for street vendors.

“They can create markets and we are willing to pay monthly fees. All we want is a source of income,” says Habashy.

Vendors say that they would be happy to pay the price of becoming legally registered vendors with proper stalls.

One statement on Facebook put out by the so-called "The coalition of Cairo's Street Vendors" illustrates the desire of vendors to obtain proper legal status, rather than rely on informal relationships and bribes. “Instead of paying money to policemen in order to let us work, as we used to do before the revolution, we’re willing to pay this money to the state in return for legalizing our positions,” read the statement.

Sunday’s march is planned to start in Ramses Square and continue on to the cabinet building, where a list of the vendors' demands will be delivered to the government.

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