Yesterday there was a loud bang outside my window. I went outside to check to find police blocking off street. Mild panic, as I live beside one of the city’s palaces, where Obama dossed for an hour or two when he was in Egypt earlier this year.
The traffic started to pile up as the two policemen in their summer white uniforms (they should be changing to winter black soon) waved the traffic into a side road.
Then I realised that the police were trying to jump-start their car and the banging was actually the police car backfiring while it blocked the road. How can they chase the baddies when they’re in the worst cars on the road?
The traffic cops are hilarious. They’ll be holding up half of Cairo’s traffic, minibuses with boys hanging on the outside walls, little taxis on the school run crammed with a dozen wriggling children, dudes revving their hot engines, women drivers with big dark sunglasses and their hands permanently on the horn, everyone champing at the bit.
But the cops are having a fag and a cuppa tea, perving on some pretty girls or having a natter on their mobile, completely oblivious to the mountain of heated angst and black exhaust fumes pouring from the cars behind their hands. Then finally the din of a hundred car horns gets their attention when someone finally starts shrieking, and they’ll step back to unleash hell.
The official stats say 6000 people are killed in road accidents every year in this country which until less than 10 years ago put a luxury tax on seatbelts.
But a friend disputes this. Whipping out his calculator, he tells me that’s 16 people a day. “No way. No way,” he says, reckoning it’s at LEAST double that. We’re bouncing over the most potholed road on the Sinai as we continue the conversation, the car’s underbelly thumping on a bed of rock. “Look at this,” he says, pointing at the crumbling road. “There are more than 80 million of us Egyptians. Maybe the government thinks there should be less…”