Cairo's Chaotic Traffic

Jun 22, 2020

Visitors to Egypt have told me that they’ve seen equally chaotic traffic in places like India and China, but I’ve yet to witness an equivalent level of vehicular insanity anywhere else in the world myself. Most, however, are like me in swearing that Cairo’s traffic is the worst they’ve ever seen. But what’s so funny and strange about it all, though, is that there’s still a sort of rhythmic harmony to the madness on the streets in Egypt. While there may be some markings on some roads and traffic laws in theory, in reality there are no lanes, no laws, and no order on most of Cairo’s streets yet it all still somehow flows and works.

I rarely drive when I’m home in the States anymore, and when I do it’s not uncommon to be stuck in snarled traffic for an hour or more in some places because of traffic accidents. And this in a place that is at the much more developed end of the law and order spectrum. Yet in Egypt, where traffic is insane, I rarely see an accident. In fact, in 10 years I’ve only seen one major accident on a rural highway and never a major accident in the congested urban areas. Even fender benders only happen on rare occasion, in my experience. Somehow, the non-system just… it just works.

Because cars wiz by you, swerving and honking away as you’re walking down the street in Cairo, tourists are often scared to death when they finally get to that point where they realize they have to cross the street. Egyptians cross the street willy nilly – whenever and wherever they want. Major thoroughfare? Whatevs. Cars not stopping? No worries. Just walk out in the street and they’ll go around you as they fly by.

This is how the ritual of crossing the street in Cairo works. It’s hard for tourists to avoid crossing a street, and getting a break in traffic is rare. But if you watch the Egyptians do it, you’ll see a workable method in the madness. Step out past one pseudo-lane and let a car pass in front of you. Cross the next “lane” while another car passes behind you and another one in front of you. They see you, and they’ll avoid you as long as you stay still. Then you can cross the next bit of road and wait for the approaching car or two in front to pass before completing the last part of the crossing over to the other side of the road.

Standing beside or following the crossing pattern of a local is a good way to start, but soon you’ll easily get the hang of it and just become a part of the system of wild driving and freewheeling pedestrians. You just have to let go and accept the traffic and traffic [non] patterns when in Cairo, and maybe even try to get some entertainment out of it. It’s all just a part of the fun.