While some throw away junk, robabikia dealers see an opportunity to earn money.
The word “junk” in Arabic means: old stuff that has expired and can be used again in some other way. People who deal in junk, also called robabikia dealers, trade in anything that can be repaired and re-used or even dismantled to be sold as spare parts or raw materials and metals that can be re-manufactured. Junk can be anything from paper staplers to large trucks and heavy machinery, but each junk dealer specializes.
Ahmad Ali (53) started trading in junk about 30 years ago. He lost his goods three times in fires but he still thinks the profession is a lucrative one worth pursuing. He even believes that the state should support junk dealers instead of chasing them and imposing restrictions on them. He believes that they are saving the state billions of dollars each year. They recycle used goods instead of turning it into waste and importing new goods in hard currencies.
Ahmad is one of tens of dealers who present their goods on the ground and inside canvas tents amid the graves on the 16 Street in Saida Aisha, southern Cairo.
Most dealers are originally from south Egypt and from the Delta region. The market is known to offer everything old, “from needles to rockets,” as market visitors metaphorically put it. Here one can buy all used house and office equipment: furniture, home appliances, antiquities, ceramics, plumbing equipment (second and third class) and others.
Ahmad says that junk dealers get their goods through auctions and from junior robabikia dealers who roam around Cairo. They prefer the goods that come from high-class neighborhoods, such as New Cairo, Garden City and Al-Maadi.
Some rich people living in these neighborhoods get rid of their belongings before they get completely worn out and frequently renovate their houses. This provides junk dealers with very cheap goods that they can renovate and then resell for high prices to earn large profits.
The Tunisian Market, despite being widely famous among Egyptians, is only a small stone in the unseen junk trade kingdom. There are no official estimates of the volume of this trade, however some figures circulated among dealers indicate that the value ranges between L.E. 30-50 billion a year (USD 1.6 billion-2.8 billion).
Stock auctions carried out by some governmental entities, public companies, banks and private institutions constitute the largest part of this trade.
These stock auctions include a variety of goods: stationery, iron and wood junk, discarded cars and minibuses, factory equipment and large production lines that are outdated or belong to inactive factories.
Ahmad says he once bought a well-kept bedroom furniture set from the New Cairo neighborhood. Its original price was about L.E. 30 thousand (USD 1,600). He renovated it and then sold it to a young lawyer who was about to get married for only L.E. 10 thousand (USD 552).
The market is mainly open on Fridays. The veteran dealer and his fellows start working from 6 a.m. until sunset. Some people prefer to go to the market early to get the best offers. According to estimates by Ahmad and some dealers, Friday market turnovers can reach a few million Egyptian pounds (over 100,000 US dollars).
The Tunisian Market receives fewer visitors on other weekdays. Daily transactions are estimated at hundreds of thousands of Egyptian pounds, most of which are done with other dealers from various areas as well as technicians who come to buy a wide range of spare parts and equipment.
While selling goods and spare parts at the market, Ahmad and his colleagues sort out metals taken from dismantled devices and worn-out equipment and sell them to exporters eager to buy copper, iron, aluminum and plastic to meet the demands from other countries, most prominently China.