One thing that strikes me about Cairo is the lack of, and lack of care for, the city’s infrastructure. Sidewalks are busted into chunks; electrical wires are frayed and exposed; street lights are burnt out or flickering. Sometimes this is just an inconvenience or a cosmetic shortfall. Sometimes it’s a bigger problem.
On the day that I arrived in Egypt a sinkhole opened up in a downtown neighborhood, swallowing three cars and forcing dozens of people out of their homes. Meanwhile, garbage is piling up in the streets of Giza. Last year, a landslide in a in the Cairo neighborhood of Duqweia killed over a hundred people. (An internal investigation recently decided that the landslide was “fate” and no one would be held responsible.)
So what gives? I’m not saying I expect Cairo to look like Copenhagen. But why is this beautiful city, this world capital, in such bad shape? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve got a speculation: The government doesn’t give a fuck about the people.
Cairo’s infrastructural failings, it seems to be, are a by-product of Egypt’s authoritarianism. The people at the top of Mubarak’s regime don’t care if Doqqi is full of festering trash and don’t care if people in Duweiqa die in a landslide. They don’t live in those neighborhoods. (They live in verdant, recently built, Boca Raton-like suburbs on the outskirts of Cairo.) And they don’t have to worry about not being re-elected when the trash doesn’t get picked up.
Potholes are the archetypical issue in American local politics. Mayors and city council people are re-elected or voted out of office based on their ability to get potholes filled. If they want to keep their cushy jobs, jobs that often help keep their pockets full through shady real-estate deals (yeah, I’m from New Jersey), then they need to make sure the garbage gets picked up and the streetlights work. I’m not saying our democracy is perfect, but that’s generally how it works.
Not so in Cairo. Members of the local council need only be on the good side of the regime if they want to keep their cushy government jobs, which also, I presume, help keep their pockets full thanks to shady real-estate deals. And hence, a city full of garbage and broken sidewalks.
I’m not sure I’m right about this; it’s all based on speculation at this point. But it seems like a logical progression, right?