29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Features Travel Living Sports Profile People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Dressing down the nativesSir- I was truly baffled when I heard this week of the law that makes it illegal for taxi and minibus drivers to wear galabiyas (traffic law 2000, article 98). With all the horrendous traffic problems that Cairo faces, and offences that go unpunished, I'd be grateful if anyone could enlighten me as to exactly how this law might improve Cairo's traffic. In the past, one of the strategies used by colonial powers to break the cultural pride of a nation prior to economic exploitation was to ban the use of local traditional dress, as part of a campaign to inject an inferiority complex in people's minds regarding their own cultural identity. Numerous examples exist in most previously colonised countries.
The colonisers have obviously left behind a powerful legacy, as, to many Egyptians it still seems to represent something inferior, provincial, second-class, even faintly ridiculous.
As a foreigner living here I do not share this view. From my viewpoint, the galabiya looks cool, light, decent and dignified, and practically suited to the heat of Egyptian summers. Moreover it is a garment indigenous to the region and therefore an essential part of the cultural heritage and identity. Men in other Arab states, at all levels of society, wear galabiyas with great dignity and bearing. (I'm sure there are a number of Western businessmen sweltering amidst the Middle Eastern summers who would secretly be quite glad to throw off their sticky and constricting suits, collars and ties, for the cool comfort of a white galabiya!)
So, what exactly is the purpose of this law? Is it going to improve the traffic in Cairo even slightly? If this fulfills a purely cosmetic purpose, I wonder who it is designed to impress? Most Egyptians or foreigners who brave the rigours of a minibus ride or take a taxi couldn't care less what the driver is wearing. Their sole concern is to reach their destination with all their limbs intact, and without being asphyxiated by pollution.
Might I respectfully suggest that lawmakers rethink their priorities, and turn their attention to more pressing traffic problems? Some examples might be: upgrading the training and testing procedures for drivers of all public transport vehicles, tightening licensing procedures, ensuring that vehicles are roadworthy, converting to non-polluting fuels, penalising reckless drivers, launching a massive public education campaign and better pay, training and conditions for traffic police.
Rather than penalise the poor driver for wearing the clothing of his choice, perhaps we should create more positive attitudes towards the galabiya.