by Islam El Shazly

Driving in Egypt, it’s certainly an experience. It goes hand in hand with ‘crossing the streets in Egypt’ experience. You cannot have one without the other.

It’s the most advanced game of cat and mouse; Need for Speed and all those racing games combined don’t even come close to this. Here’s how it works, you get in the car, start it, if it’s an older car you need to warm it up for a while, then go. The rules are simple, if you are the driver you have to think on your toes, literally, you have to keep an eye on the road while manoeuvring pedestrians, other cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, the odd dog or cat that bolts across the street all of a sudden, children not higher than a car’s bumper also need to be avoided, and every driver that chooses the perfect blind spot in your mirrors to come at you from behind. Phew.


Normal everyday Cairo traffic. By sklender, Flickr.

You also need to be a bit (just a bit) patient with the odd donkey drawn cart in front of you on a very narrow street when you are in a hurry, with a car coming in the opposite direction!

There’s no method to the madness that is the streets of greater Cairo – Cairo, Giza, and Qalubiya. The streets can change literally overnight, and you wouldn’t know about it until you are on the street. Maps give a general idea of the layout, but they are not enough. If you don’t know the way to a place that you are going to and you have a map or a GPS you will still need to ask for directions. Just in case.

Sharing the streets with pedestrians, no problem.

They weren’t always like that though. Cairo’s streets were very organized, as organized as any European country, they share a similar layout, especially downtown Cairo. Unfortunately, throughout the years that followed the liberation from Britain a lot of the people in charge of urban and street planning were not really up to the challenge, they managed to come up with all the worst solutions to solve the problem of traffic. Each one passing the torch of incompetence to the next, finally reaching the Evil-U-Turn-Man, who as the name suggests, thinks that the solution to anything is a U-turn.

The street outside of City Stars, more like a parking lot really.

We went from roundabouts, to traffic lights, to u-turns; road closures to bridges and tunnels.

The major problem with Cairo’s traffic is that there are no dedicated parking spots anywhere. Towering residential and office buildings with no underground parking; no public parking for people going shopping, and no proper zoning for businesses. As a result, we end up with three rows of parking.

All the above, and a general indifference, caused people to be very aggressive when driving; at first it only affected men, but now it also affects women. Everyone is an aggressive driver.

On the other hand, driving in Cairo can be a bit fun, because there are really no rules. Even if there are rules, they actually are not implemented. You can speed up, slow down, park almost anywhere you want – except in front of embassies, they’ll shoot you… just kidding – go down the wrong way. Anything goes, although I wouldn’t recommend you do that, to a lot of people like me it is very inconsiderate and rude.

The street outside City Stars on a weeknight.

I think the solution is very simple, but I also think that the government likes the status quo; it keeps people focused on traffic jams and getting home and not on the important things.

Think of it as a real life bumper cars arena or a big amusement park ride and always keep your cool, and I think you might enjoy driving in Cairo.

Loads of  luck.

P.S. click here for a brilliant tutorial on how to drive in Cairo.

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