This ongoing battle is neither new nor unique to Egypt. It has very much been an integral part of the building and functioning of the developmentalist state since the 1950s and 60s in most developing countries. The developmentalist state in newly independent nations, and the economic order which backed it in the second half of the twentieth century, promoted a modernization project based on rationality, efficiency, Western technology and methods of management, and above all, order. As such, it regarded the informal economy and street vendors at its heart as antithetical to the state’s project and existence. Street vendors epitomized everything that modernization was not: inefficient, chaotic, parasitical and disorderly. The image of modern, well-planned, Western style cities was threatened by the association of poverty, lawlessness and chaos engendered by traditionally-clad and traditionally-operating vendors. Vendors wandered the streets, had no fixed trading places and followed no rules, which a modern, civilized society ordained.
Zygmunt Bauman captured the essence of modernity by describing it as “order as obsession.” Order has served, above all, an essential function in reproducing the prevailing economic system. In a modern, capitalist system, the large corporation working on the principles of economics of scale, the firm and even small (yet organized) entrepreneurs are recognized as partners and agents of modernization because they fit a model that is based on centralization of production and distribution. Street vendors, on the other hand, do not pay taxes, keep no records and are impossible to factor into general economic indices such as GDP and, hence, are detrimental to national economic planning. More importantly, firms and large corporations also enshrine the regulatory role of the state in managing relations of production. The state as an “ideal collective capitalist” provides the political preconditions for a “healthy” process of accumulation by controlling labor-capital relations in favor of capital interests.