Egyptian security forces fired tear gas Tuesday to disperse taxi drivers who are blocking a major road in the capital, Cairo, to protest Uber and other car-hailing applications, which the head of the Cairo traffic police insists are illegal.
The drivers stood in a roundabout on Gameat el-Dowal street after the canister was fired at them when they left their cars, witness Lamia el-Etriby and taxi drivers at the protest said. They had blocked all but one lane, causing a major traffic jam as police vehicles arrived on the scene.
"We are not leaving until an official comes and gives us his word that all these apps will be shut down in Egypt," said Sherif Ali, a taxi driver and one of the protest organizers.
Taxi drivers have been protesting Uber's presence in the country in recent weeks. The application has very rapidly become popular in Cairo, a city of 20 million people with almost-constant traffic jams.
Egyptian clients say they prefer the dependability of the app, complaining that normal taxi drivers often tamper with their meters or pretend the meter is broken in order to overcharge them. They also appreciate the safety provided by the app, especially for female passengers at night who fear being sexually harassed by drivers.
Taxi drivers have complained that Uber drivers have an unfair advantage because they do not have to pay the same kind of taxes or licensing fees. Domestic newspapers have published unconfirmed reports of officials saying Uber and Careem — another car-hailing app — were violating Egyptian law.
Uber Egypt General Manager Anthony el-Khoury told The Associated Press that company executives plan to meet with government officials this week to find solutions to this standoff and ways to coexist. David Plouffe, Uber's chief adviser and a member of the board of directors, is in Egypt this week and will be taking part in the talks.
El-Khoury told AP that Uber drivers do pay Egyptian taxes through an indirect route. The company only hires drivers who are licensed through private limousine or car rental companies, which do pay their own corporate taxes, he said.
"This is a circumvention of the law," said Maj. Gen. Alaa el-Degwy, the head of Cairo's traffic police. "It is illegal for private cars to work as rentals, which has its own regulations," said el-Degwy.
In addition to paying rental taxes, drivers must carry a special license and be registered as a rental, he said. "You cannot have a citizen riding in a car with someone he knows nothing about," el-Degwy said.
He said police in Cairo have been clamping down on Uber drivers, and those who are caught must pay a fine. The police take the Uber driver and car's licenses and refer the driver to public prosecutors, el-Degwy said.