Driving in Egypt

Our Egyptian number plate, which could be an amusing anti-tourist joke for all I know

Throughout Egypt, there are huge, wide roads and streets, with neat lane markings which Egyptians can’t see. Sometimes I felt they could actually see the markings, but they seem to misunderstand their meaning: a four lane road becomes three white lines to follow, with a few additional cars on either side. So it’s really a 10ish-lane road, where every lane is constantly moving sideways. If you’ve ever witnessed a ‘lane-changer’ on UK roads and laughed, like I always do, you’ll find this very amusing. Imagine 99% of drivers being those absolute nob-ends who chop and change lanes every few seconds, in the vain hope of getting to their destination quicker. It’s an absolute shit-fight from start to finish, and I have to commend them on how well they know where the corners of their cars are. The average UK driver would have torn up a dozen cars just getting to work every morning.

Passing is done on either side, and the closer one can get to at least one other car while passing, the more respect the locals earn from their fellow motorists. The police actively look out for drivers who give-way, or leave room for other cars, and take them away for recalibration. Space must not be wasted and the average Egyptian has a gas-like ability to fill holes with his car.

The auto markets throughout Cairo are filled with stalls selling nothing but horns, and it’s obvious why. Like a disobedient child with a xylophone, the local drivers love making a horrible, unnecessary racket. The resulting cacophony is unrelenting in Cairo and also goes on late in Alexandria.

In Muslim countries people eat exclusively with their right hands, as the left is used for… well, other things. I can only assume that indicator stalks are all on the left side of steering wheels in Egypt, and that’s the reason they are not used. Maybe the incredible language they have with their horns includes a “I’m turning left/right” beepety-beep-beep-honk variation? Bewildering, that’s for sure.

Microbus drivers are the same all over the developing world. Idiots, the lot of ’em. These guys really don’t care about the rules (actually, in Egypt I suspect there aren’t any rules) and they’ll happily roar past you on the left and turn right before they’ve fully passed you, as they want to pick up a passenger on the right side of the road.

They do love a shitty car in Egypt, it has to be said. Cheap Chinese brands rule the roost, such as Geely. The ubiquitous Toyota Hiace, used by idiot microbus drivers all over the world, is very well used here, too. However, in Egypt they have copied it and called it the ‘Haice’, just so no-one, especially Toyota, can tell they’ve copied it. And they seem very proud of their copying efforts! Maybe this is why they like Chinese cars so much?

How do they treat pedestrians crossing the road? They try to mow them down, that’s how. Stuck in traffic and going nowhere? Old lady wants to cross the road in front of you? No way, Doris, I’m gonna smash your legs up if you try that shit in front of me.

We used Uber a lot, and it’s amazing how such a simple system using GPS and smartphones can be reduced to the same shambolic ignorance that exists with New York cabbies. The Uber app tells them where to pick you up accurately, so why they can’t use the same idea to get to the destination I have no idea. At least Uber sets the price and you can’t be given tourist prices, which the regular taxi drivers are excellent at doing. I’ve had many a run-in with taxi drivers over the years, so I tuned things down a lot, but if I ever return armed with even basic Arabic…

Ahhhh, the open road!

So, what do they do well here, in regards to roads and driving? Well, the roads themselves are excellent, generally. Their traffic light systems often display large second countdowns, which takes the guessing out of starting and stopping. That, though, is their lot. Nothing else about driving in Egypt is good, cool or fun.

What I did realise after a couple of days, though, is that trying to do things the way we drive in the UK will just make you angry and, probably, more likely to have a crash. They expect other drivers to do crazy shit, so when you don’t do that crazy shit because you’re used to doing it in a logical fashion back home, you scare them and they don’t know how to deal with it. Once you start just going with the flow, ignoring lanes, passing on both sides, honking your horn randomly and being aggressive at taking up space, you’ll find it easier and less stressful. It does help having a large car, though.

One of their crazy ways I will never accept, however, is how they use their lights at night. Driving through rural parts around Luxor, for example, at dusk, amongst the horses and carts, donkeys and camels, we’d suddenly see a flash of lights coming towards us. Every car seemed to have either no lights or just side-lights on, and they were flashing us every time. We were paranoid and confused so asked our campsite manager in Luxor what was going on. It wasn’t that they were saving power, it’s that they feel even low-beam lights are blinding to oncoming traffic so shouldn’t be used. Instead, they flash briefly to indicate to you that they’re there and they’ve seen you. But if no-one has any lights on, how do they see each other to flash? Stop it, Egypt.

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