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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More