A rare sight — I’m driving in Cairo on a busy Thursday night. As I approach the crowded streets in El Korba, an area in the East of the capital, my adrenaline rush begins and I start panicking; this is the part I always dread. It is not the cars honking behind me or the time spent looking for a parking spot, it is the stranger who will take it upon himself to be responsible to help me park — the ‘sayes’.
I admit, I’m usually slow in parking my car, but that is only because I’m extra cautious. As the cars begin to impatiently honk, and the ‘sayes’ starts instructing me on what to do, I decide to close the car windows and act like there’s no one around, until I can finally move the gear to P, and breathe.
In Egypt, the ‘sayes’ is usually a man who helps car owners park their cars by finding a parking spot for them. It is also completely common to see that this individual has reserved certain public spots as his own, for his endeavor. If one is to park, then the ‘sayes’ makes a show of passing on instructions to the drivers, and, in their absence, the ‘sayes’ is also responsible for protecting the car from theft by simply being present in the area.
In almost every parking spot or area, in any street in Cairo, there has to be one man whose only job is to basically tell you how to park, and be rewarded with money. An occupation that was once unimaginable, the ‘sayes’ or parking attendant, is now a reality in all of Cairo’s streets and public parking areas.
The fees given to the ‘sayes’, which usually range between EGP 5 and EGP 10 — aren’t always decided by the driver. In many cases, the ‘sayes’ refuses the amount given to him and demands a certain amount, depending on the car type or even the neighborhood where the parking area is located.
It is very common to hear that women multitask but men cannot. As to who came up with the general cliché, it begs the question as not all women can multitask — I cannot. As solid proof: having someone tell me what to do while I hopelessly try to park on a crowded street in one of Cairo’s busiest neighborhoods makes the task more challenging than driving next to an Egyptian microbus driver.
Rules and regulations
Disliked by many, this job has been a phenomenon in Cairo for the past decade, and it does not seem like it’s going to end. On the contrary, a few years ago, there were attempts to regulate their work through a legislation for parking spaces, times, and fees for the ‘sayes’. Clearly, these efforts were futile.
Although ‘soyyas’ (plural of ‘sayes’) defend their case by claiming that they assist car owners in finding a parking spot in busy areas, help them physically park, and protect their cars from theft, I solemnly believe the ‘sayes’ phenomenon in Egypt is a form of robbery that has just been normalized with the passing of time.
An Egyptian podcast called The Potcast Show, hosted a ‘sayes’ called Tarek Abu Zayed to address Egypt’s controversial parking situation. In the interview, Zayed explains that the ‘sayes’ is not a one-man job, it is an entire institution, but the public only sees the ‘sayes’ because that is who they deal with.
“As a car owner, it is in your hands to decide whether the ‘sayes’ will act responsibly or act like a thug, depending on the way you treat him,” Abu Zayed adds. “The ‘soyyas’ help in making the street a bit more organized because people are extremely chaotic by nature.”
Additionally, one of the worst aspects of having these ‘soyyas’ around is that they often only appear after I have already parked my car, or when I’m getting into my car to leave, demanding a fee. They also move around confidently, acting like they own the street, when it is literally a public parking lot.
I’ve lived in the UAE for several years prior to moving to Egypt, so I understand what it’s like to have to pay for public parking. But, at least in countries where there are parking machines, one knows the money is going to the government, to eventually benefit the people living in that country, and to top it all, it is regulated. On the other hand, in Egypt, it’s a forced reality where I pay the parking fee to avoid harassment in case I refuse to pay, that being my right.
Cairo without a ‘sayes’?
Despite inciting the disapproval of many Egyptians, there are some who like having the ‘sayes’ around and benefit from the service he offers: whether to steer clear of accidentally bumping their cars while parking, or to avoid the headache of cars honking behind them as they park.
That being said, every job has employees who are corrupt and ones who are honorable. It would be unfair to generalize and claim that every ‘sayes’ is immoral and undeserving of the fee paid to him. But a deep-rooted idea in my head tells me that this job offers almost nothing to society, and is a form of abuse. Nevertheless, those working as ‘soyyas’ cannot be blamed for making their own bread. Overpopulation, unemployment, and lack of parking spaces are all factors that contribute to the increase of this unfavored phenomenon.
An investigation conducted by Daily News Egypt in 2015 stated that most of them are not licensed because getting one requires undertaking administrative procedures and providing a criminal record. Moreover, the same investigation states that policemen often turn a blind-eye to the ‘sayes’ because many of them are hired as ‘informers’. Other theories allege that officers are given a cut of their income.
Whatever the reason is, the ‘sayes’ seems like he is, unfortunately, here to stay.
Solutions — if any?
On a daily basis, women already endure a copious amount of harassment and bullying on the streets, adding one more factor, in this case a stranger intervening in my parking, makes it overwhelming for me to even consider driving alone in the city.
In 2021, Egypt’s State Council approved a two-year-old bill regulating street parking and setting conditions to the issuing of licenses to ‘soyyas’.
The law stipulates that the ‘sayes’ must be 21 or older, have no criminal record, and is drug-free according to a certificate issued by the forensic or central laboratories of the Ministry of Health. Despite supposedly being implemented in several neighborhoods in Cairo since then, the law is not effectively enforced across the city.
I’m not one to bring up unrealistic solutions, especially knowing well that legislation and change of rules in Egypt can take several years. And while I understand that the ‘sayes’ is a relentless and enduring occupation, knowing that the person parking my car or demanding money from me has no criminal record, can definitely ease the tension between us, even by a bit.
Otherwise, every time I approach my destination and am about to park, dreadful thoughts will continue to spiral in my head.
“What if I stand up to this mess and decide not to pay and leave? Or what if he is unhappy with the amount I gave him and refuses it? What if he violently voices his objection to the fee I paid him?”
I will then have to forcefully remind myself that a ‘sayes’ is not a thug and that I’m overthinking. When, in reality, I might not be.
The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Egyptian Streets’ editorial team. To submit an opinion article, please email [email protected].
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