Map 3. Considered illegal, their presence in commercial districts and in the city in general has varied, particularly since , depending on the soundness of the Algerian or Egyptian state and local authorities. In Egypt, the revolutionary period, which began at the very start of , opened an era of uncertainty, especially regarding the control of the city, and by extension, the control of commercial streets and their occupation.
Nevertheless, street vendors have learnt to deal with these fluctuating and versatile public policies, and have developed strategies to stay in the streets and organize themselves — sometimes hijacking public decisions and sometimes negotiating with them. Staying in the commercial districts streets is indeed a necessity for them, because it means gaining access to potential and numerous clientele, and in turn, to revenues.
Public authorities interpret the presence of street vendors as a challenge to their power and try to regulate, if not, to ban it. Supported by globally unanimous and negative press discourses, and sometimes by public opinion that tends to condemn street vending, Cairene and Oranese urban authorities regularly have tried to tackle the dazzling development of street vending. Besides stigmatizing discourses, they propose a repressive legal arsenal that aims at reordering public space and regulating usages and practices, in order to ban the so-called informal vending that occupies streets, pavements, and squares.
Until the beginning of , public space usage was regulated by the State Emergency law that forbade, among others, all rallies and in general, all manifestations on the highway Battesti After the revolution of , however, the situation changed. The massive influx of street vendors throughout and around Tahrir square, the epicentre of popular demonstrations, opened a new era of public space usage Nagati and Stryker One of the last places in Ataba district where police intervened during the revolutionary era was finally the metro station located in the West part of the commercial district.
As semi-closed spaces, metro stations theoretically are strictly forbidden to street peddlers. In and , however, metro corridors and exits were occupied daily by individual street vendors, often children, displaying their small goods to customers on the ground. During our fieldwork, we witnessed occasional attempts from Transport Police officers to control the occupation of corridors and limit the presence of the vendors, with very limited success, since the young vendors immediately returned after they had left. The wilaya — the territorial collectivity whose head is designated by the central state —, sent the police many times during our field period in order to drive the street traders out of the main square, Tahtaha square, located at the heart of the marketplace map 3.
Police interventions aimed at evicting street peddlers from the area, seizing their goods, destroying their stands and freeing public space. The police marked their control of public and commercial space, pushing back street vendors inside the district and its smaller streets. Their operations progressively became more episodic, but still regular, and police trucks still could be seen in around Tahtaha square guarding the place. Photography 1. Photo a In November , street vendors had set up booths all around Tahtaha square. Photo b After a police raid in November , street vendors had been evicted and the square was used as a parking lot by traders and consumers.
Source: author, November a and March b. No free space has been left. Every small place has been occupied by one or several street vendors, on the street side, on sidewalks around the big flyover piers that run over the entire district from west to east photography 2. Street traders aim at settling in strategic locations, where pedestrian traffic is the densest, and where cars have to stop because of a very frequent and important traffic jam, i.
Photography 2. Street vendors in al-Muski. Photos a and b Booths and handcarts on Ataba square. Photo d Use of street furniture and sidewalks by street vendors in front of a mosque, on al-Azhar Street. Credits: author, a and b, c, d. Source: author, a and b, c, d. One of these street markets is located all around the ground level car park at Ataba square and near the underground entrance photography 3 where booths have been built in wood and protected from the hard sun by umbrellas or covered with cotton cloths. The items are protected from dust or thieves with only sheets of cardboard or plastic bags and are under the surveillance of a private society, created by a former trader during the revolutionary era as a response to this new demand from the street vendors.
Some of these cardboard tables form long street markets. That is the case of the al-Gohari souk, located near Ataba Square, in the middle of the section dedicated to women garments and accessories photography 3 below. Photography 3. Al-Gohari street market. Photo a Al-Gohari Street. Photos b and c The market before the opening, on al-Isili Street: cardboards, attached with strings and maintained by weights, protect goods from dust and thieves. It also illustrates the fluctuation of power relationships between street vendors and urban authorities, directly linked to the evolution of state power, and the effects of the revolutionary period.
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This very popular souk, organized by vendors originated from the Upper region, is a very old street market near al-Ataba square. After half a century of indecision, the market was closed in Yet in , a court decision, after having confirmed the first decision to close the market, imposed the opening of a new marketplace, organized and formally managed, in order to replace the previous location. However, in this new market, only traders who were officially registered could pretend to buy or rent a new booth to Cairo governorate, the owner of the new market.
It meant that only a few of the vendors could be reinstalled because the majority were undeclared. Those who remained without a local business came back in al-Muski streets, under the constant threat of a police control that could be a devastating blow for business.
For example, we were told that, at that time, street vendors had to constantly negotiate their place with local police officers and had to regularly pay bribes, up to EGP, so as not to see their goods being seized by the police. The amount of the bribe would increase if they could not immediately pay the police, and had to pay back the items that had been confiscated.
Police officers disappeared from the smallest streets of al-Muski district in and Officers then simply patrolled the main streets in order to ease traffic circulation and prevent informal vendors from hampering the flow of traffic. Because of the absence of police officers and local administration, the vendors of al-Gohari souk could henceforth keep their tables with their items on it, protected by cardboard as the photographs show above, all-night long under the surveillance of a security agency, a service for which they paid between 2 to 5 EGP per table.
At last, according to the vendors themselves, regular bribes to police officers and local administration agencies disappeared with the erosion of local and central state, at least during the three years of local power vacuum. Public authorities had to recognize the impossibility of completely banning it, since informal trade is a significant source of income for a large part of the population.
Authorities finally offered a compromise to street vendors. Some of the informal street vendors previously settled around Tahtaha Square largely obeyed, but the immediate result was a lack of space in these streets for pedestrian circulation, particularly at the peak of frequentation. These markets aim at hosting informal street vendors by giving them a commercial license, a commercial business at affordable prices and both social and spatial stability.
The Challenge of Informality in the Middle East and North Africa
The mission of this committee was to identify places in Oran that could host these covered markets to-be, a list of locations that had to be confirmed by the Ministry of Interior, which had the final decision and would fund this urban and commercial policy. Meanwhile, municipal authorities would encourage the street vendors to organize themselves in a professional association in order to have the right to ask for a commercial space in these future markets. This situation raised the question as to whether public authorities were able to meet this enormous demand.
Thus, for the formal-to-be small traders, being settled in the suburbs would mean being cut from more important parts of their daily and usual clientele. Consequently, that brings to the question whether the street traders would really benefit from this policy and use their commercial space, not to mention the problem of this policy funding, and its sustainability Reguieg-Issaad Traders running a shop, formally or not, in general have a negative view of these vendors whom they blame for unfair competition.
Relationships between traders and street vendors usually vacillate between de facto acceptances, and sometimes, open conflicts in relation with spatial competition. Traders may not have paid for an official commercial license, but they are owners or tenants of a shop and do not work in the streets. For this reason, they are more powerful than street peddlers are, and are not, or more rarely, under the threat of local administration agencies or the police.
Taking this into consideration, the relationships established between these two types of traders is not only based on rivalry and conflicts. It can also be a collaboration with one benefitting from the presence and the activities of the other. One of the street vendors was a year-old man, specialized in small school supplies, e. By doing this, he assured him his place in the street and was sure to have it back every morning. The other street vendors, youngsters in their twenties, who worked just across the street, often sold products of the manager at discount prices, thus making a very small profit on the items.
This was useful for the manager, who could get rid of his stock. This will help them to prevent the street peddlers from setting up their booths or their cardboard stands. This situation is very common in al-Muski Street in Cairo, the main and more dynamic commercial artery of the district map 3 , where an important part of the market stalls are appropriated not by vendors but by the shops they are located in front of. In this area, the street stands are so numerous that they impede pedestrian circulation, particularly at peak hours.
Algerian street vendors also use residual urban spaces — i. By disposing their goods in front of an abandoned shop or an official building, street vendors may avoid the wrath of the entire commercial neighbourhood.
Photography 4. Before the forced displacement of street vendors from Tahtaha square in autumn , traders who said they would suffer the most from street vending activities were also those selling products of the same low quality and the same geographical origin as the goods proposed by street vendors, e. In other words, traders saying they were negatively impacted by street vending were the smallest traders of the marketplaces. They are retailers, and are the most vulnerable to commercial competition because their margins are much smaller, and because they target the same poorest consumers as street vendors.
The bigger traders specializing in upmarket products or in traditional products imported from Morocco, e. The tradesmen association of el-Kettane market had been pressuring Oran Municipality for a decade, in order to oust informal street vendors who had set up their booths at the doors of the market. One of the traders, a member of the professional association of the market, insisted during one of our interviews that souk el-Kettane had been in great difficulty for a couple of years.
Not to mention the additional threat posed by the urban development projects of Oran Municipality which envisioned replacing the municipal old marketplace by a new and modern commercial centre. The association of the souk al-Kettane managed, nevertheless, to drive the street peddlers out of the neighbourhood thanks to police intervention in November , and regular surveillance operations since then — a situation, which the head of the association welcomed with great satisfaction and a bit of relief during our interview in March What is finally at stake is the control over commercial space and, therefore, over potentially high revenues.
It also is a question of power upon space: who has the power to manage access to the commercial street and to control the informal settlement inside the marketplaces. The result of this power struggle is specific alliances building between the diverse agencies inside the two marketplaces. In our cases, street vendors encroach both on the public space, thus facing the various reaction of urban and state authorities, and on business opportunities created by shopkeepers, raising sometimes their ire, in alliance with the state, sometimes their collaboration and more or less passive acceptance.
As we demonstrated, the authorities has been wavering between tolerance and violent and sudden interventions to restore the public order that street vendors are regularly been accused of disrupting. In Egypt, an important state crackdown has occurred after the period of our fieldwork at the beginning of , with the restoration of the old military and ruling elites thanks to the coup of Field Marshal then elected President el-Sisi.
By a spectacular turnaround, the Egyptian state decided to regain control on the civil society through a tighter and tough control of public space aiming at the restoration of public order. This has resulted, amongst other things, in the massive eviction of street vendors from the city centre Abaza and from al-Muski main commercial streets. It seems that, through the cracking down of a popular and commercial centrality, the state sought to re-establish a social, economic and political order.
Subduing the commercial city and its public space would thus signify controlling urban order and the city at large. Abaza M. Post January Revolution Cairo: urban wars and the reshaping of public spaces.
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Maghreb - Machrek 2 : Darbon D. Afrique contemporaine February : Djamel B. Dris N. Maghreb - Machrek 4 : From Africa Renewal:. December Also in this issue. Cover Story. A messenger of peace and development goes to the Sahel. Good Governance. African Peer Review Mechanism comes of age. By Kingsley Ighobor.
A vision of an integrated Africa. The rise of civil society groups in Africa.
Piracy in West Africa. By Nirit Ben-Ari. Illicit Financial Flows from Africa: track it, stop it, get it. By Masimba Tafirenyika. Giving back to society. The Sahel: One region, many crises. Reaching for new heights. By Munyaradzi Makoni. Elephants are the latest conflict resource. By Pavithra Rao.