Wednesday, July 18, 2007

See, under "Democratic Legitimacy"

Stepping Boldly Off the Curb, With a Wave and a Prayer - New York Times: By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

The most important thing for us is if people follow the rules,” Mr. Hussein said with such understatement about the problem that he might as well have noted how different life would be in the Middle East if only there were peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The traffic here, and the army of police officers who try to manage it, tell much about modern Egypt in ways big and small. The first seems to be that no matter how crowded, and it is beyond crowded, no matter how chaotic, and it is beyond chaotic, Egypt functions.

The poor manage to eat. Children go to school. Government offices open and close. Garbage is collected. And the traffic flows, or perhaps crawls is a better description.

In fact, it is such a miracle that someone can get from Point A to Point B at certain times of the day that some say it must be a result of divine intervention. ...

“It is amazing how people survive, and how Egypt continues to remain standing, and how the people can still, if they are patient enough, sometimes get to their destinations,” said Osama Anwar Okasha, a television writer whose shows explore Egypt’s social and political life. “It is as though there is some miracle. The solution is in the hands of some invisible force.”

Chaos. It is often the word associated with Egypt’s roads, its maddening bureaucracy, its ill-prepared health care system. But it is chaos only to the untrained eye, the uninitiated, and in the case of driving here, the weak of heart. There is a system, from top to bottom, which may be corrupt, class-based, inefficient and ineffective, but it is a system nonetheless. ...

“In all civilized countries there is no such thing as a guy standing giving signals for 10 hours,” said Brig. Gen. Hussein Bedeir, who supervises the officers. “But here, it is what people are used to.”

Over all, the Egyptian system seems to function on three basic principles: Every man for himself; when necessary, offer a little baksheesh (cash); and accept that money and connections go first.

“We are people who don’t do things unless someone is there to make us do it,” said Essam Qassem, a cabdriver fighting his way along Hassan Sabry Street in the well-to-do area of Zamalek. “We don’t comply with rules on our own.”...

“The problem of Egypt is not that the Egyptian people do not like order,” said Salah Eissa, editor of Al Qahira, a weekly newspaper published by the Ministry of Culture. “It is the problem of making exceptions in enforcing this order — and this applies to traffic. It is something that provokes Egyptians and pushes them to think that since it is all a question of bullying, then every man to himself and everyone becomes a bully.” ...

To make ends meet, he said, he took other jobs, and without saying so acknowledged another fact of life in Egypt: the traffic police routinely take “tips” to allow people to park illegally, to remove boots from seized cars, to look the other way.

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