Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Article excerpt

ONE FEATURE OF THE 'NEW EGYPT' IS CAR-JACKING, part of a recent trend of rising crime. Illegal arms circulate freely in a country were they were once so rare there were jokes about it. For instance, the one about the farmer who wanted to kill his wife, so he put a gun in her soup (like poison, a more traditional weapon, because he didn't know how guns work). The economic situation is partly responsible for increased theft, alongside an uneven police presence, but not all of Egypt's new hooligans resort to violence; some use their wits in illuminating ways.

A lawyer friend told me about a scam he'd heard of from an alleged relative of the victim, a cab driver. The cabbie picked up a passenger in central Cairo whose destination was somewhere in the city's desert outskirts. Whereas cabbies lately tend to avoid such distant fares for security reasons, the passenger was an older man in traditional galabiyya; his head-gear, prayer beads and respectful manner suggested he was a religious academic, a sheikh.

When they reached the desert highway, the sheikh took out his wallet, removed a E [pounds sterling] 50 note (around five pounds sterling) and threw it from the window. The cabbie wasn't sure what he had seen, but a few kilometres later, the sheikh again took E [pounds sterling] 50 from his wallet and sent it flying. The cabbie was now compelled to ask why. The sheikh responded that Islam calls for charity and this was his way of distributing it. Whoever found the money probably needed it; it was all in Allah's hands.

Another E [pounds sterling] 50 note was similarly donated while the cabbie contemplated the situation. Now that the sheikh had his attention, he took a crisp new E [pounds sterling] 200 [pounds sterling] note from his wallet, and threw it away. This was more than the cabbie could bear: 'That one's for me!' he cried, stopping the car so he could recover the money. …

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