Taking the traffic in hand
After the withdrawal of the police from the country's streets during the 25 January Revolution, traffic was one of the things young Egyptians helped to organise, writes Omneya Yousry
While the police have now returned to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities following their withdrawal during the 25 January Revolution, traffic is still a major challenge, especially in the nation's capital. As a result, Egypt's young people, who not so long ago were defending the streets from thugs and thieves, have returned to the streets to assist in the task of finding novel solutions to this perennial urban problem.
Young people in the popular district of Dar Al-Salam off Al-Fayoum Street in Cairo started to manage the traffic and street security when the revolution was at its peak, directing the drivers of microbuses in a calm and respectful way and encouraging them to obey the traffic laws. Said Ahmed, one of the young men involved, said that while in the past such drivers had got into the habit of bribing traffic policemen to overlook violations, as a result of the revolution there had been a change in people's habits with the routine recourse to bribery no longer taking place.
Other young people have taken over traffic police duties in 6 October governorate, wearing bright, phosphoric green vests with the slogan "No to thugs, No to violence" written on the back of them. Salma, a 6 October resident who has assisted the young men involved, said that "we wanted to do the job of the traffic police, while infusing it with a new soul."
Such groups are by no means alone: Nasr City residents have got used to seeing similarly enthusiastic young people wearing phosphoric orange vests on Abbas Al-Aqqad Street and in front of the Geneina Mall, and Heliopolis residents will have got used to seeing them in Roxy Square. In fact, such groups are now operating everywhere in Egypt.
"It doesn't matter if you wear a uniform or not. It's about the intention behind the actions, and people's willingness to make a real difference," said Mahmoud Wagdi, a Nasr City resident who has also taken part in managing the streets in his area.
Wagdi said that there were two intentions behind the young people's initiative. "First, we wanted to keep the flow of traffic normal in the absence of the traffic police, and this was especially important after the second speech of the former president, which led to chaos everywhere. Second, we observed that people were unwilling to accept orders from the police, and they were more receptive if they found a civilian reminding them of their duty to observe traffic regulations."
The young people in his area had produced stickers bearing the words, "We are all positive" in order to motivate people not to violate the rules.
One of the many situations Wagdi has had to face in his work as a volunteer took place in front of the City Stars Mall when a taxi driver attempted to double park. The driver shouted in the face of a policeman who told him to move on, leaving his car in an attempt to hit him. However, things calmed down when Wagdi and others intervened to uphold the regulations, the driver even apologising to the police officer.
For their part, the traffic police are also trying to rebuild people's trust in them. At the Al-Fayoum Security Directorate and under the leadership of Major-General Morsi Ayad, a security campaign has been launched using the popular sticker, "shame on you... the country is changing and yet you continue to double park." The sticker bears official insignia and the words "start with yourself." It was designed by young people and is also available to be downloaded from the Internet.
Facebook is another place where young people have been interacting in order to help with the country's traffic problems. Common interest groups have been created, one of them called "people want to organise the traffic" which gives information, raises public awareness, carries out polls, suggests new ideas and gives tips on the traffic situation. It also publishes news on the traffic and various accidents that have taken place. However, possibly the group's most important function is to teach members the correct traffic rules, in order to help produce newly civilised streets and to help people avoid paying bribes or violation fees.
The group also highlights successful experiences abroad in traffic planning, and another Facebook group, "let's change the random traffic," is intended both to change people's behaviour and to change the country's traffic regulations. The group has produced a sticker reading, "I respect the traffic rules," and through its interactive activities it shows the willingness of Egypt's youth to get involved and to make constructive suggestions.
Among these is a request that officials take more care in erecting street signs and that greater care be taken in calculating the carrying capacity of streets, particularly in the new satellite cities. According to Rasha El-Emam, one of the group's members, there is no other way of persuading people to give up double parking, since this is the result of a generalised choking of the streets by traffic. If things were better planned from the beginning, she says, with enough parking spaces factored into the design, then the problem of double parking could to a large extent be avoided. For the moment, El-Emam suggests that anyone forced to double park write a note to apologise and leave it on their vehicle's windscreen, together with their mobile number.
The group has also come up with the idea of new stickers summarising traffic regulations that can be distributed to taxi and microbus drivers, since these people can often not be reached through Facebook or Twitter. The group has also planned awareness-raising trips to microbus parking areas. Group members have called on the government to develop a national traffic system, asking Egyptian experts with experience studying systems employed abroad to use this to draw up a new national blueprint.
One of the most interesting new ideas in helping people deal with traffic problems has been the creation of websites that help people to avoid traffic jams by updating them on the traffic situations in the areas they wish to pass through. These sites, by2ollak.com, wasalny.com and elza7ma.com, enable visitors to find information about traffic blackspots before they visit them.
However, it is not only Egypt's young people that are working to benefit their country. Charities and other associations are entering the field too. When the Resala charity announced a need for volunteers to participate in a new traffic- management campaign, part of an initiative called "the traffic policeman's friend", it decided to help manage the streets in Giza by providing two or three volunteers to assist the regular traffic policeman at each traffic-control point. These volunteers work every day from noon to 6pm, and they wear a uniform consisting of jeans, a blue t-shirt and an Egyptian flag badge.
The campaign is intended to cover 12 busy squares in Giza, including University Square, Al-Galaa, Kitkat, Doqqi, Mustafa Mahmoud, Shooting Club, Orabi, Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, Al-Remaya, Feisal and Giza. In the future, Resala aims to expand the campaign to cover Greater Cairo and then Alexandria and the country as a whole.
While such initiatives are indicators giving hope for a better tomorrow, it is nevertheless true that the traffic problem in Egypt is bigger than any voluntary group can handle. In addition to enthusiastic young people, the problem requires better official planning, security and control in order for a permanent solution to be found. Yet, if the traffic problem is resolved, it will provide a definite boost for the resolution of others to follow.