News / Middle East

In Divided Egypt, Traffic Misery Unites Population

FILE - Cars are stuck in a traffic jam in downtown Cairo, September 2013.
FILE - Cars are stuck in a traffic jam in downtown Cairo, September 2013.
Reuters
Someone once told Egyptian filmmaker Sherief Elkatsha that you can tell much about the personality of a nation from the conduct of its drivers.

In his 77-minute documentary “Cairo Drive,” which had its premiere at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this week, Elkatsha follows Cairo drivers from all walks of life and sees parallels with the challenges facing Egyptian society more broadly.

While Egyptians have rarely been more bitterly divided than now - split between supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and those who favor the military-backed  government - Elkatsha says the capital's inhabitants will always have one thing in common: traffic misery.

“I just started thinking about my own country and I thought that's it. That's how I can show the personality of a nation,” said Elkatsha.

“Driving just seemed like the grand equalizer for me, it's one of the most egalitarian things in Egypt. Whether you're driving a donkey cart or a fancy car, everyone has to get from point A to point B.”

In Egypt's teeming capital of 20 million, the only road rules worth following are those made up by drivers who have suffered decades of long delays.

Getting behind a wheel to navigate the busy streets means shifting from one lane to another to occupy a coveted empty space - what Egyptians call taking a “ghorza,” or stitch.

It also involves familiarizing yourself with the language of flashing headlights and horns, which may translate into anything from a polite request to pass to a biting insult.

“It just becomes your whole day and you plan your life accordingly, you even don't go places sometimes because you just can't handle the traffic,” said Elkatsha.

Before uprising, after elections

Footage for the documentary was shot over four years, starting in 2009, two years before veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising.

The director, who splits his time between New York and Cairo, stopped filming in June. His journey took him from the Mubarak era to just before the ouster of Morsi.

But he chose to include footage only up to Morsi's election in 2012. “I felt it was when Egypt had turned a page so I decided to stop there,” he said.

Elkatsha said his film was not political.

“It isn't a revolution movie, but it kind of drives around the revolution,” he said.

“There was this buildup to what happened in January 2011, and I feel that I somehow captured that. Not living in Cairo but coming back regularly, I felt it was a little bit harder every time to get that Egyptian spirit to come out, which is what I love, that sense of humor,” said Elkatsha.

The film captures the hopeful euphoria that swept through Egypt after Mubarak's ouster, as well as the ensuing disappointment many people felt at the lack of real change.

In one memorable scene, a press bus following a presidential candidate in 2012 gets stuck when the driver takes a wrong turn and starts down a narrow road.

The bus never makes it to the campaign stop and the driver stares in despair at the gridlock as passengers decide to get off and walk the rest of the way.

“To me that was just this great analogy of a rushed election,” said Elkatsha.

As the mood on the streets shifted from hope to disillusionment, people's tone turned darker. Summing up her frustration at seemingly endless waiting, one woman behind the wheel sighed and said: “It's a mess. Egypt is just a big mess.”

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid