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.
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs