Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Traffic full of surprises

Road users in Egypt have to anticipate everything, including the impossible. That’s daily routine, that’s normal. Egypt has not for nothing one of the highest rate of deadly road accidents.

Hurghada has divided roads, thanks God! After a bad, deadly accident recently, traffic was quickly redirected on to the opposite lane. Without signs, without traffic police, just like that. So there were cars, microbuses and lorries on the same lane, driving across each other. At the same time, cars continued turning into the lane from right where there was suddenly two-way traffic. Consequently, we saw two lines approaching, one going onwards between them!!!! Bloodcurdling! I closed my eyes and simply hoped that everything would go well.

And why do cars, microbuses and lorries back over longer distances, against traffic on the divided roads? Sometimes, because they missed to turn off. Sometimes however, because some hundred meters further on, there is a mobile police check point. Thus, when the driver’s documents are not ok or not existing, or when his car has actually been unfit to drive or has been stolen, there is only one solution: lop off. Backwards of course. So why, I ask myself every time, does the police not command someone 500 m prior to the check point? The traffic control would be much more successful. And the dangerous fashion of backing the car would tremendously be reduced.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Each to his own

Tourists from I-don’t-know-where are strolling idly beside me. They are only flimsily dressed which is not unusual. They wear what people where on holiday: sleeveless t-shirts, shorts, sandals, sun glasses, sun hat and sun burn.

Unusual however, are these kinds of clothes with these temperatures: 19 degrees Celsius in the shadow and a cool breeze. As much as I looked surprised in the past at Egyptians wearing a lumber jack or a warm jacket, do I wonder nowadays about tourists dressed as we were in midsummer.

I admit: I am among those now who wear a lumberjack or woollen pullover at temperatures of 25 degrees and feel quite comfortable with it! Crazy? Come and spend a winter in non-isolated buildings where the temperature drops to 16 degrees Celsius at nights and climbs to 18 degrees for the lucky ones! J

Friday, February 17, 2012

Finally in paradise

It needs either good luck or a certain effort to make it to paradise. Or rather both.

Lucky I was, since it was offered to me. However, it was not love at first sight although I had been here before. For my swim trainings.

And I had to make big efforts: I cleaned many hours in order to get rid of the carelessness of the previous tenant. It was awful. I became ill, had to fight against food poison. And I had to pack my belongings and move. Everything at once and all mixed up.

Yet, it was worth it: I live now in paradise. Precisely in “Paradise Village”, an Italian compound. It’s a neat residence with Italian trattoria, German bakery, small supermarket, swimming pool, terrace and a small garden. In the afternoons, chill out or Italian music is discretely played. People greet each other – something I as a “country bumpkin” missed a lot. The first friendly “Buon giorno” almost left me speechless. The second one opened a chat with a French lady.

It’s an oasis of privacy, cleanliness and friendliness. It’s finally a place to recover, to relax, to be and to stay. A paradise amidst Egypt’s daily chaos.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Police state Egypt – what is left over?

Police. Police everywhere. At each corner, in front of every bank, every museum, every hotel, machine guns moved up against, checkpoints every few kilometres. This is how I saw Egypt when I came here first in 2006. I was shocked, since I had seen such a scene only once in my life: 1987 in Chile.

The police oppressed, harassed, blackmailed, tortured and killed. Khaled Said, a young Alexandrian caught the police in dealing drugs, took pictures and uploaded them on internet. His life was the prize he had to pay. Yet before, he was badly mistreated and tortured by the police. Police said that Khaled had been trying to swallow a packet of Marihuana in order to hide it. Following this, a scream went through the country and many consider this abuse as the last straw that finally led to the huge upheavals starting from November 2010.
So this is how Egypt’s police looked like until 25 January 2011. Since then, they have virtually disappeared. Almost. They come back to attack or shoot protesters, to haul journalists away, sometimes also in order to protect state institutions – in which they partially succeed. Anyway, it was neither before nor now their duty to protect citizens.
As a concession to the protesters, SCAF promised in March 2011 to reform the police (central security police). This did not happen. The last 12 months are a sequence of promises not kept.
Prisons are stormed and highly dangerous inmates flee. The gas pipe to Jordan and Israel is getting set ablaze regularly. Gangs roam across the country, commit raids and burglaries, kidnap and demand ransoms. The smuggling of arms has become a popular business – quite every decent citizen is carrying a weapon. Others do it anyway.
The police – with few exceptions – just watched the football disaster in Port Said. Eyewitnesses say that police men refused to open the emergency exits reasoning that they had no order for doing so. Videos in internet show that the emergency exits had been WELDED.
These days, Egypt saw an accumulation of bank robberies and since the disaster in Port Said, further police stations and prisons have been attacked, prisoners released and weapons stolen. The police defended themselves fiercely and some were even killed in the shootings.
Today, the ministry of finance was set on fire – a further catastrophe in a country that is almost grounded. The police, the state (at present the SCAF) have neither energy nor power. Their power was oppression, intimidation and torture – but this does not work anymore, Egyptians are fed up with this. The police state is falling apart, is in a state of dissolution, but the police do not know any better…
When today I was pushing my trolley out of the supermarket, I saw only some steps in front of me a bulk of police men. Police men with bulletproof waistcoats, arms and cars. Some important men got off. I slowly walked to the taxis. My driver asked me if I knew what had happened inside? I had no idea! He mumbled something of a bank robbery. Rumours. False alarm. Nothing happened. The governor visited the mall. This indeed needs a huge police presence.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cyclist’s encounters

My experiences sometimes accumulate while riding my racer. Recently, I was once more stopped by the police. First, I ignored their “Hello”-calls out of their car beside me – because this frequently happens. Yet then, I had no other choice than to stop and get off. A tall man introduced himself politely as a police man. Somehow vexed I asked for his identification. What did they want again from me?
A short while before, I saw that there was police on the outer motorway, where they can never be found. The police man asked me where I was heading to and where I was from.
To my big surprise he was worried about me and thought I was lost! An hour ago, a group of cyclists had passed by on their way from Cairo to Aswan, under police protection. And if I want to cycle to Aswan alone, I will not need a special permission – is the information I got as well.
I had to bury this plan last winter because of the revolution. So I wanted to realise it this winter. However, last weeks’ events with bank robberies and kidnappings don’t really make me feel very confident. L
Only few days later, another police car was driving beside me. The police man asked the general where-do-you-come-from-where-do-you-go-questions and greeted me with a smiling “welcome to Alaska!” Oh dear, that day, the sky was covered with dark heavy clouds and it was really cold.
Today I had to stop on the road to answer a phone call. For once I laid my bicycle down and soon a car stopped to ask if I needed help. Five minutes later, another car stopped! At least I know now, that in case of emergency there would be assistance immediately – that’s a comforting feeling, indeed.
If only, all Egypt would again be like that!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One disaster after the other

It doesn’t stop! There have been several (tempted and successful) raids on banks, currency exchange offices and a post office within a few days only. No police and no security to prevent them!

And tonight: over 70 killed after a football game in Port Said!?!? The security could not (or did not want to) protect the footballers and fans being attacked.

I am really curious to know what the parliament is going to say tomorrow on its emergency meeting and if it takes action instead of just talking. And the SCAF? Are again the “invisible hands” to be blamed?

It rather looks as if Mubarak and his regime are fulfilling its promises: „There will be havoc behind me“.

Compared to this news, yesterday’s earthquake at 4.4 Richter was downright harmless. However, I felt very concerned, because it was one of the strongest earthquakes in this region during the last couple of months.

I wrote on one of my blogs that I could not imagine that things could get worse… Well, I admit, I was completely mistaken.