Egypt – As seen from the road

With Egypt dead centred on the tourist trail this was always a place I thought I’d never say much about, but there was one thing about this country that really was a new one for me:

Road culture.

On the road in Egypt

There is some irony that myself, ever the disliker of motor vehicle based transport, found an such understanding in this great country from none other than its motorways.

You don’t have to be on Egypt’s roads for long to make the observation that it’s a pretty different to any thing else a westerner would normally encounter. It’s not like south & east Asia, rammed with scooters and a plethora of other vehicles one or more wheels short of four, they’ve got all the same stuff on their roads as we have, it’s the culture that’s so different.

There’s a lot of pretty interesting behaviours to be seen on Egypt’s roads – to name a few:

  • Lanes: Nope. Yes there’s lanes painted on the road. Driving in them is optional. Maybe there’s a time of day where a four lane road is a four lane road, but every time I was on the move, four lanes was six.
  • Centre line. Generally this denotes a division between the different directions of travel, but hey, if there’s no one using the other side, fair game.
  • Indicators: Are frequently used, but have no relation to intended direction of travel
  • Horn: Is also frequently used, but for none of the purposes clearly outlined in, say, the UK road code
  • Traffic lights: Generally obeyed, unless no one’s looking

Given what’s often said about Egypt, none of that may be much of a surprise. It almost sounds like an every-man-for-himself society which on the surface it very much appears to be, but there was one other observation I made which completely undoes all of that preconception which is – Just what do they use those indicators for?

When Egyptians find themselves stuck in front of a large and/or slow vehicle, they briefly blink their left indicator, which is observed by the leading vehicle. If it is safe to pass, the front vehicle will also briefly blink their left indicator to acknowledge that it’s clear, and safe to pass. If the front vehicle blinks their right indicator, that means the the vehicle wanting to pass will likely collide with an oncoming vehicle, likely resulting in death, and it is therefore not safe to pass.

Holy heck! So on one hand the road behaviour is selfish and inconsiderate, but on the other, Egyptians trust strangers with their lives? What on earth does all of this amount to?

Well funnily enough I find myself looking at the laws of physics to try and frame this in some kind of analogy. A droplet of water, when all external limiting factors are removed, i.e. gravity, physical constrainment, forms a perfect sphere, the most geometrically efficient shape.

In Egypt, there’s little in the way of influencing factors on the road (i.e. law enforcement) and subsequently, their usage of it, is very efficient, compared to the west. Maybe round isn’t so bad after all.

Anyway, one of the things I found particularly amusing is branding of vehicles. Apparently there’s only two brands of vehicle on the road in Egypt: Chevrolet and Mercedes, well, OK, there might be more, but by crikey, if someone dare own anything else, you’d better believe all of its badges have been removed and replaced with Mercedes logos.

Chevrolet (?) Truck with turbo insignia hand panted on. Looks ever so much like a Daihatsu to me…

So what’s that all about? I’m pretty sure I know a 1995 Fiat Punto when I see one. To me the pièce-de-résistance of Egypt’s roads was a truck I saw with an absolutely enormous mass-produced plastic badge reading “MERODES BFNZ” (No typos there) plastered across its rear – Respect for the respect of registered trademarks by the way! Often so comical is this falsified branding that I wonder if it really has the assumed status-propelling objective that I first suspected.