When I was six I went with my mother to visit my grandparents. My father’s parents own an apartment in what fifty years ago would have been a trendy, European-styled part of downtown Cairo. Today it’s a dirty and decrepit part of the city, and the apartment has aged with the area around it. The building faces out onto what at one point would have been a tree-lined square, but today it’s always full of street vendors, selling shoes off rugs they’ve placed on the ground. They’d always call out as we passed, trying to sell us flip-flops or fake-leather sandals. One time, as I walked along holding my mother’s hand, I heard a yell of fear. Suddenly, hundreds of men got up and ran, seemingly for their lives. One of them knocked me over and mum got a fright trying to pull me up before I was trampled. I was pretty shaken, and when we got up to my grandparent’s house, she explained they’d been running from the police. They were unlicensed and the cops were prone to spot raids to drive them out. A failure to run fast enough could leave them paying a hefty bribe, or a larger fine. Every time we visited after I kept my distance from the street vendors, in case they suddenly decided to run. Still, I felt bad for them. Egypt’s full of people trying to make a living anyway they can, and it seemed these men had found an honest if difficult way to do it.
I haven’t thought of that day in years. This article reminded me of it. It’s more insightful than my childhood recollections, so you should have read it instead.