Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Irony of Egyptian Checkpoints

In and around Hurghada and the Red Sea area, checkpoints on the road are becoming more and more commonplace. These checkpoints are multi-faceted. Not only are they meant to be a deterrent to criminal activity or set up while authorities are searching for wanted individuals and / or illegal smuggling of weapons and / or drugs, checkpoints for speed radar are springing up all over the place.

The road between Cairo and the Red Sea used to seem like a practice track for all the up and coming Michael Schumachers in the world. With cars flying down the road at speeds topping 180 km per hour, and buses wobbling dramatically as they rocket around the hair pin bends in Zafarana at 80 km plus, it's little comfort to know that checkpoints and radar set up along the road are meant to combat the excessive speeds.

On certain occasions you will actually watch them erecting or turning on the radar on the side of the road. Inevitably there will be a checkpoint a few kilometres up the road. Drivers caught speeding face an immediate fine of 150 LE (about 30 US $), as well as the threat of fines for not wearing your seat belt. And here's where the irony arises.

In Hurghada one of the main roads that will have checkpoints is the airport road. With a marked speed limit of 60 km per hour, being one of the few well tarmacked roads in Hurghada drivers will push their cars up to speeds topping out at over 100 km an hour. It seems that radar on the road should provide a nice little cushion of income for the Egyptian government. On top of that, the checkpoints enable authorities to catch taxis who are not using their meters (for which taxi drivers can face immediate fines of 200 LE and up), drivers who are not wearing seat belts (50 LE fines), expired licenses (most commonly on microbuses), and most recently talking on the cell phone (upwards of 50 LE fines).

If you're in a taxi or car approaching this checkpoint, there are a few things that will happen in rapid succession. Firstly, the driver will frantically reach to turn on his meter if you're in a cab. Secondly, he will reach for his seat belt to clip it in. In many cars the seat belt doesn't actually fasten, so they will simply hold the buckle down to make it appear that it's fastened (laughable). If he's been speeding, you will immediately drop down below the 60 km speed limit (although let's face it, if you've already seen the checkpoint and you've been speeding, you're already busted). And in the not-so-rare occasions that he will be on the mobile, the mobile will immediately be dropped between his legs, leaving him to have an apparent conversation with his crotch.

All this happens in less than a minute upon spotting the checkpoint. The drivers will all crawl through, and generally *no less* than 50 meters past the checkpoint, speeds go back up, seat belts come undone, phones are back on the ear, and in many taxis the meter is turned back off - God forbid you actually try to charge your client what the fair rate is right?

Considering this is not a phenomenon limited to one or two checkpoints throughout the country, but can be considered a rule of thumb, were the Egyptian government to set up one dummy checkpoint and have a second checkpoint five or ten km down the road where the fines are doubled, imagine the money they could make! But, that requires logic, and as I was telling a friend of mine earlier, sadly these days logic is a commodity hard to come by. 

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