An Interior Ministry runs through it

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Note: this is a patriotic felucca not the Nile Taxi.

I used the Nile Taxi service for the first time yesterday. Boarding the boat involved two fights and the near arrest of one of the crew.

The Nile Taxi is a boat that ferries people up and down the Nile so that they can avoid Cairo’s congestion. For those that have never visited Cairo (and may never do so) Cairo excels at traffic problems and when I say congestion I mean Elvis Presley’s arteries in his white jumpsuit days. The Nile Taxi is thus a very good idea, allowing people to zip up and down the river between Shoubra and Maadi on a speedboat type craft and not expire in their cars.

It would be an even better idea if it operated in another country lucky enough to have the Nile run through it. Or on Mars, or basically anywhere to which the Egyptian Interior Ministry does not have access.

I rang up to book two spots for me and my mate Linda to go to Maadi. A polite voice told me to proceed to a certain eating establishment on the Dokki corniche where the boat would meet us. Off we went to said establishment where a man in a moustache and tie standing at its door denied us passage on the grounds that this is a restaurant not a port and they have argued several times with Nile Taxi about this and kindly bugger off.

We trundled up river to the nearest access point to the water (the entire length of the Nile within Cairo is fenced off so that poor people can’t gain access to it enjoy it) where a man at a boat rental place informed us that the Nile Taxi comes nowhere near here. I got on the blower again with Nile Taxi and the polite voice told me return to the eating establishment. At this point the idea of hopping to Maadi on my tongue was seeming like the better option but Linda remained quite zen while eating nuts so I battled on.

At the eating establishment I asked moustache and tie whether he would speak to polite voice. “Yeah i’ll talk to them why not” he said with his eyebrows raised and his chest puffed out.

There then followed the usual type of conversation that men have during these types of imaginary battles that mostly focus on form rather than content. Lots of “I am talking to you politely” and “ok I’m shutting up now so you can talk” with that bullish, big swinging dick tone that ensured that his ancient forefathers got all the best cave real estate. And then the call ended abruptly and polite voice – by this time sounding a bit frayed – instructed us to wait opposite the police hospital in Agouza. Off we went and – as was inevitable as the sun rising or Habib el Adly being released from prison – a rozzer soon appeared.

We were standing on the other side of a busy four (sometimes six depending on drivers’ moods) lane road from the hospital, which is surrounded by blast barricades. There we were, two foreign looking women in fashion stretch leggings and large sunglasses one of whom was shoving nuts in her mouth (stop it). The Interior Ministry never sleeps, and is always on alert against potential acts of sabotage by state enemies (except apparently when real genuine state enemies want to carry out an act of sabotage, of which there are many).

So this rozzer (a minion in the riot police) was despatched to have a word shortly after I had been pointing at the hospital and moaning to Linda how the police hospital is all swanky and handsome while general public hospitals are decrepit pots of shit. Perhaps they can lip read.

Fortunately, the Nile Taxi appeared at the same time as the minion. I made him look at the taxi and attempted to communicate to him nicely the fact that we would be boarding said vehicle in less than 30 seconds if only he would fuck off. Out of nowhere (the popo have an almost vampyric ability to swoop in on you out of nowhere) three more men appeared, this time plain clothed. One of them had a small moustache, a large belly and a leather jacket a combo which indicated authority, and he did all the talking.

A young man got off the Nile Taxi and instructed us to leap over a low wall onto some steps below like the agile mountain goats that we are. Linda bless her stood on the wall and stared at the steps giving her backside to the cops in what I hope was a deliberate move before declaring the impossibility of this great leap, and decided instead to slide down on her arse. All the while the young man was busy in conversation with leather jacket who demanded to know the meaning of this Egyptian boat freely using the Nile and this Egyptian man clambering on its Egyptian bank.

The tone got ever more irate and then the inevitable words were spoken to the young man, “come with us please”. He however proved an expert at stalling and had pulled out his mobile phone and mentioned what was presumably the name of some big cheese somewhere. He then instructed Linda and me to get on the boat, which we did, while he continued negotiations for his freedom with Starskey and Hutch, almost imperceptibly moving a yard further away from them every three seconds or so. Maybe the sight of a load of women and a man with a briefcase in the boat had persuaded leather jacket and his bozo friends that we were not the Muslim Brotherhood. Or perhaps they just couldn’t be bothered to climb over the wall. In any case off we jetted while leather jacket scowled at us, his face becoming lost in the boat’s wake as we were pleasantly buffeted by the wind.

As we sped along past the river’s verdant banks I wondered how it is any small business in Egypt survives when it has to deal with Interior Ministry dimwits. And I thought about the Egypt the Future investment conference and how wonderful it is that they attracted all that investment and everything but at the end of the day if a person can’t stand unaccosted on a pavement for 40 seconds then what’s the point.

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