The lessons of Cairo traffic

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid speaks to an unlikely critic of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

This morning the traffic in Cairo was bad, worse than usual.

What is usually a 15 minute ride took nearly an hour. But I was entertained by Mohamed, the taxi driver.

Shortly after I got into the car, we were stuck.

“This is all because of Morsi”, he said.

I was intrigued why the president would be blamed for Cairo’s notoriously awful traffic jams.

After all, they existed also under Mubarak.

But Mohamed enlightened me: “Each time he opens his mouth, he makes things worse. He is not apt to be a president. He could be the mayor of a small town at the most.”

I became very curious of Mohamed’s train of thought.

Mohamed, a middle-aged man, lives in one of the many slums on the outskirts of Cairo.

He has been driving his beaten up black and white cab for 20 years.

One of the millions of voiceless Egyptians who never received anything from Mubarak.

The perfect candidate to be a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, as the group traditionally builds its power base among people just like him.

But how wrong I was.

Mohamed voted for Ahmed Shafiq, and is convinced that the last prime minister of the Mubarak era won last June’s presidential elections, “but then the Americans interfered and Morsi was declared the winner”.

I ask how that would be possible.

“On the night of the results, the presidential guards were first deployed to Shafiq’s residency and then were told to go to Morsi’s home instead.”

Traffic continued to move at a snail’s pace, but Mohamed continued with his stories.

He told me about his brother-in-law, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The taxi driver obviously disliked him and “all his friends”, saying they had taken money from neighbours and friends to build a local mosque.

Instead, Mohamed says, “they spent it on renovating their homes”.

“You can’t blame the Brotherhood for that”, I told him.

Mohamed’s voice rose: “Of course I can. We went to complain to the local branch of the Brotherhood but they brushed us off.” 

I ask what it is that he wants and without losing a beat, Mohamed says: “For Morsi to back down from his constitutional declaration.”

Mohamed says he will ensure this by going to the famed Tahrir Square on Tuesday “and [I] will not leave until he does so”.

I ask if perhaps Morsi’s declaration forbidding the judiciary from challenging his decisions until a new parliament is elected isn’t the right decision to propel the nation forward.

“No! He makes Mubarak look like the most democratic leader Egypt ever had. Morsi does not work for Egypt he is a puppet in the hand of the Brotherhood. They think they can impose their will on us, it will never happen.”

By then we were slowly reaching my destination. As I got out of the cab Mohamed gave me his phone number and said “hopefully next time we meet, there will be a different president”.

I ask when that will be.

“Maybe not tomorrow, but I will not leave Tahrir until Morsi steps down.”

I ask of his livelihood.

“I told my wife that life might be difficult but its important to teach our children to fight for their rights. No one taught my generation that, and this is the mess we are in now.”

One thing is for sure though Mohamed has learned to express his views with panache.

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