Is How Is Done In Egypt

On the broad freeway to Ayn-Soukhna, an instant resort built in a minute on the edge of the Gulf of Suez as a weekend beach retreat for rich Cairoans, and the site of our conference. We cruise comfortably in our large Mercedes. In the back seat, A-san and I are drifting off to sleep. We become aware the car is decelerating sharply. We look out the window. It looks like the mixture of a desert and a quarry and a construction site with nothing being constructed. Low flat-topped hills and piles of rubble. The driver pulls over in the middle of nowhere...

A-san and I are bemused as we start to reverse the big car. The driver doesn't explain why as he is on the phone as he does this, his back-throated language rolling in his mouth like red wine at a tasting. Slowly we go back until we find - behind to small screen of rocks set to hide him from the forward flowing traffic - a man in a purple striped shirt who squats in the sun with a speed camera between his legs and a walkie-talkie in his left hand. Our front seat passenger, the driver's brother, powers down his window and leans over to shake hands, to pass over some money. But the purple-stripe shirted man shakes his head and holds his hand up, as if to reject the offer. The brother calls with out some rapid-fire friendly sounding words, as does the driver, who has now pulled the phone's hands-free set from his ear. Both men smile broadly, conspiratorially to the squatting man. This is a such a joke, it's just business, it's not a problem, not a crime, not a conflict of ethics. They talk in a convincing tone, rock their heads, wave theirs hands. It takes several attempts at handshakes and big smiles all round for the purple-stripe shirted man, who feigns his reluctance almost convincingly, to accept the money. The brother even got out and placed it on a rock for him - 'We insist!' Eventually the bribe is transferred with a complicated handshake that leaves the roll of notes deep in the palm of the purple-stripe shirted man. We smile and wave, we are all buddies here, and drive away.

Two or three hundred yards further on, over a slight rise, as we get back to cruising speed, is a police checkpoint. The driver pulls up, shows his license, a serious set on his face, and the policeman waves us through without even looking in the windows. As we accelerate, the brothers laugh and slap each others' hand with a low five.

'Good eyes,' I tell the brother.

The driver translates. They laugh again.

'That is how is done in Egypt' says the driver to me as he pushes the car back up to 130km/h. "One million per cent certainly, he will take his money." One million percent - this is a catch-phrase of his, he has said three times already today. "The poor people are so poor, the prices they are rising. Of course he will take the money! Of course!"

I nod. Of course. And so would I take it too, of course, one million per cent certainly.



Posted by: expat@large on May 18, 08 | 1:16 am | Profile


I like it. 'Justine' updated right?

Posted by: Dick on May 18, 08 | 11:36 pm

Dick: thanks. No imitations where none intended. I think there were some baksheesh stories in The AQ somewhere, surely? Hell, Durrell would have been a master, being a "Diplomat".

Posted by: expat@large on May 24, 08 | 6:50 pm


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