Road Rage in Cairo

Date: January 2011.

I’m not surprised by the explosion in Egypt.

As soon as I landed in Cairo two weeks ago, my senses were assaulted. I hop into a cab for a meeting and notice cars bumping, drivers screaming, nobody stopping. This is road rage, I thought to myself. Something is seething. Is Egypt’s patience exhausted? Is frustration at unemployment, corruption, repression – expressing itself on the streets? Is the road rage a manifestation of a deeper anger?

When a 20 kilometer ride from the Giza pyramids to the Ramses Hilton close to Tahrir Square took two and a half hours in the evening, I asked Mr. Amin, a 35 year old, an advocate to stop female genital mutilation (FGM), who was driving us to visit a project in Giza, how he tolerated it? With patience, he said.

When I prodded him further about how his young cohorts reacted to the closed, repressive country with minimal employment opportunities for educated youth and professionals like him, he said, I am much more optimistic than my friends.

I also met with an NGO leader (unnamed for protection), one of Egypt’s most seasoned and sophisticated. She was brutally honest: The country does not have or support NGOs.Rather it has co-opted the concept. The government runs NGOs which raise funds from wealthy businesses, so regular NGOs have no source of income. She goes on: Rather than directing these funds to address social issues of poverty, lack of infrastructure and unemployment in Egypt, the funds, in fact, feed selective government coffers or are used for bribes.

When I sent her an email on my return, she uncharacteristically did not respond. When I followed up with another one, she said she never got the first one. Clearly, as Tunisia erupted, Egypt’s regime disrupted the Internet selectively. And peaceful NGO leaders were public enemy number one. Who knew that Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution would ignite the fury and unleash the long pent up frustration of the common Egyptian, erupting into a flaming protest? It’s been a long time coming. As Egypt follows Tunisia and Yemen follows Egypt…… what’s next?

The opinions mentioned in this blog reflect the personal perspective of Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy, Chair Invest in Muslim Women.

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