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Taxi

Book Review by Sasha Simic, March 2008

Khaled Al Khamissi, Aflame Books, £8

Some 80,000 taxis ply their trade on the streets of Cairo. The battered black and white cars which thread their way through the chaotic roads of Egypt's capital are so ubiquitous it's easy to forget that each of them carries at least one human story.

Last year the Egyptian journalist Khaled Al Khamissi collected 58 conversations he had with taxi drivers while being ferried across Cairo into a book. The result - Taxi - was an instant bestseller. It's a wonderful work which captures the daily struggle of working people in modern Egypt in their own words.

Egypt's rulers have enthusiastically embraced neoliberalism, making life much harder for the population. The cabbies in this book are young and old, religious and secular, representing many different groups from across Egypt's society, but each is struggling to survive in its "fish eat fish" society.

Simply trying to renew a driving licence becomes a nightmare of bureaucracy and bribery which rivals anything Kafka wrote. The majority hate Egypt's dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak and despise Egypt's conspicuous rich. Most understand what unrestrained market forces have done to their lives: "I'm like a fish and the taxi's like a fish tank... It's true I drive around all day long but all I see is the inside of my taxi, my limits are the windows of the taxi. Life's imprisonment, ending in the grave."

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