A girl begging at the traffic light in India. - Flicker/Shalu Sharma
CAIRO – 27 June 2018: “Yes, I am a begger. I beg for money. I am a begger; you are blocking my livelihood by parking here,” shouted a street begger at a parked car. It was nighttime in Ramsis, a square jumping with action, movement and liveliness, and the begger was sat on a pavement near the station, calling out on passers-by to give him a hand-out in exchange for a prayer.
A beggar, also known as a panhandler or a mendicant, often ask for money to buy essentials like food, medicine and clothes, as a favour. They often pray for you or tell you that nice things will happen to you if you give them money, in hopes that hearing this will make you generous and give them money. Street beggers can be found in public spaces; typically, near busy stations, malls and restaurants.
Although some of these people may actually need money, most people begging for money on the street have made a profession out of it.
“Begging has become a career in Egypt, so you are not sure whether a beggar really needs help or not; some beggars became rich through begging, and they prefer to continue begging and create new ways to deceive people,” Azza Koriem, a professor of sociology told Xinhua.
Agreeing with this, Monde Zitho Langa, from News 24, writes, “Some beggars come from comfortable beds, homes with bread and water to bathe, but because of laziness claim a corner of the streets. At that corner they do their pity-me-work, forgetting that real people who aren’t pretending to be homeless actually need that money.”
Today, in Cairo, a begger can make more than a civil servant or even a manager at a governmental institution through collecting LE 100-150, a figure that doubles and triples around religious events and festivals, as the spirit of giving spreads between people.
However, the problem with beggers today is that they affect the people who actually need money as people become more and more reluctant to give money to the poor, as they are scared that they are being robbed or that they are giving money away to someone who does not need it but is doing it as a profession.
“This kind of beggars affect the real poor people as donors do not trust any beggar at all and they don't give any of them money because it is hard to differentiate them,” Koriem told Xinhua.
Getting to know our beggers
Speaking to a child sat on the corner of a street, looking despairingly at passers-by, it became obvious that some of the children who beg where brought up to do so, while others merely have to abide by their parents, guardians or patrons’ decision.
“We come from out of Cairo. We ride a mini bus everyday from out of Cairo, though 6 October city and come to Nasr City,” nine-year-old Zainab told Egypt Today, refusing to say where she originally comes from. “I come with my aunt and mother, as well as my siblings and cousins. We work this street almost every day and each of us is expected to make at least LE 100.”
“Expected” rang loud and clear, a word that speaks volumes and warns of possible consequences.
Zainab and her family work a specific street every day and each of them knows exactly what to do and how to ask for money; it is as if they were trained to do this.
It is their job.
Working on a street can be dangerous, and when money is involved, an order is needed. “I work with a few people. We have teamed up and we work this street,” explains 15-year-old Mohamed, known as Zoka to his ‘collegues’.
When asked if others work this street too, Zoka explained that there is a system, “You are not just allowed to work any old street you want to work.” Aggressively speaking, he explains that there should be some kind of monopoly on the street. He explains that he has to split the money with the other three people he works the street with; anyone who enters the street will have to do the same, or pay them a monthly fee, for them to allow him or her to beg on their territory; almost like cutting up areas when selling drugs, beggers are not carving up territories.
Confirming this, Nashwa, a mother in her late twenties, told Egypt Today, “I have to pay a daily fee for the man responsible for this street. He tells us where to work and ensures that we do not work the same areas. This way, we can all get some money out of it. I know what you think, I should be working, but why should I work when begging makes me more money.”
Begging has become an alternative profession, a way of making money. But this is not to say that everyone who begs is not in need.