Traffic, the antidote to propaganda

The army and the people are one hand. Egypt is above everyone. And everything. It is also more important than everyone. And everything. We would sacrifice everything for it. We make promises and fulfill them. We will build with honesty and something related to sincerity that I would have read if the car wasn’t traveling so fast.

A picture making the rounds on social media a few weeks back

A picture making the rounds on social media a few weeks back

These short poetic sentence can be found in blue-on-white signs hanging under street lights, so you can learn the value of the homeland even at night - if you squint. They are on the new and improved Misr-ismailia Road, courtesy of interim president Adly Mansour (in the presence of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) and the armed forces.

As if having learned nothing from Titanic, I have, on one more than one occasion, bragged about how cars unfailingly maintained constant motion on this "unstoppable" road. Five lanes, I would boast -- it can comfortably take six cars and a motorcycle.

That was the case until the generals blocked it to tell us about how smooth traffic is on it and will continue to be now that they have fixed and peered over a map of it. (The very same map deposed president Morsi stood in front when he, too, was inaugurating the armed forces’ developments on the very same road with el-Sisi a few months ago.)

Sadly, the road improvements had been used too often for anyone to put another red ribbon on them now. So Mansour had to settle for inaugurating a never-before-used right turn.

Meanwhile hundreds of meters back, sullen truck drivers tried various approaches to get their vehicles past and beyond others, from caressing to punching their steering wheels. But the prevailing mood was one of resignation. Unspoken questions hung in the hot air, as people tried to choose which elbow to lean on and decide whether or not is it unpatriotic to huff and puff about waiting over an hour in the sun so that the man who saved the country from the MB can perform a useless formality. Yes, you caught the bad guys and that was very nice of you, but we really need to go -- the overstretched smiles they exchanged, and quickly dropped the second they broke eye contact, seemed to say.

Anyway, “wasn’t blocking the road a crime?” some driver with a sardonic smile wondered out loud, when news of el-Sisi’s presence reached us from the front lines. After a microbus driver reminded him that the world is sweaty and stuffy, he refocused his attention on taking a long drag from his cigarette. But once the exact purpose of el-Sisi’s presence became known, there was no shushing him or anyone else up.

“We always have to wait for the president to pass. Not once do we get a president who waits for us to pass,” a taxi driver in stripes told his new friends, impressing them with his articulation. “That's a nice one...But el-Sisi is not president --” an old man said, before forgetting or giving up on the rest of his sentence.  

As some decided to abandon the shade of their cars to sit on the baking sidewalk and bond over how awful the sun and the idea of blocking a road midday was, others began seeking pleasure in telling the new arrivals why they were all stuck there.

“El-Sisi is passing by, that’s why." A middle-aged man squeezed his big belly between cars to break the news to the newcomers with a hint of irony. The sentence is particularly reminiscent of Mubarak’s days, when traffic jams followed him around Cairo. “No, he is laying the foundation of something,” a female passenger stuck her head out to add. “But what’s that got to do with us?” the sunburnt and wrinkled newcomer inquired. He got the same defeated shrugs from every direction and a few paraphrased “Well, you know, it just had to be done now” replies.

Many felt that the belated inauguration was over the top and unnecessary. "Kind of like the Oct. 6 celebration. Why spend money on fuel for your helicopters to open an open road? Or on a million singers and dancers? I love (el-Sisi). He cleansed the state, but that money is better spent on the poor. I don't know why he does this,”  my driver said with a half-embarrassed smile before he was interrupted by the sound of slow clapping coming from old man on the deck of a red pick-up truck. He looked like a deflated Popeye and wouldn’t stop saying "It will never get better" over and over again. People tried to curb his pessimism by swearing it will if God's willing. He said they will see.

Although Cairo traffic is never fun to experience, this particular jam was not terrible. At least there was the knowledge that - despite our agitated beehive of a media - many still retain the ability to criticize the regime, however hesitantly.