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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid