Red, Orange, Dead: The fast lane to the hereafter.


Last Sunday, 18th November, marked the day in which people take a moment to remember those they have loved and lost on the various roads that spiral across our world. The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims focuses on the devastation caused every day by traffic accidents, and the trauma left by disabilities and lifelong injuries. Living in a privileged Western world where our footpaths are paved and our roads are smooth, we have relatively little to complain about. Although there are still victims on the road, big traffic accidents are, thankfully, few and far between, and any major incident is followed by a spate of angry reports and extra precautions placed by government as they respond to new pressures. However, the Middle Eastern world, particularly Egypt, are not privy to such privileges and care as their death toll on the roads is one of the highest of all the countries. I could sit here and give an amalgamation of statistics on the exact number of people who die every day in Egypt due to traffic accidents, however, a row of zeros on the computer screen, no matter how true, does not manage to affect many people, and once numbers start appearing, concentration starts to wane. So let me just tell you instead, the casualties on the roads of Egypt every year, are far greater than most wars. There is a better chance of saving the young men and women of Egypt by sending them to war, as opposed to letting them drive off to meet their friends.

As if the country was aware that World Remembrance Day was just around the corner, the 17th November saw various crashes, in and around Cairo, that killed over 70 adults and children. The countries very own way of welcoming in the day, and these were just the crashes that were reported. A school bus and a train collided, killing over 60 small children, while in the affluent suburbs of Cairo, a car pileup resulted in the deaths of 17 people, and many others injured. Having spent the last two years living in Cairo, I can very easily imagine the scene. Cars crushed to one another like empty coke cans, scattered belongs and the various wares from the backs of trucks and Chevrolet vans strewn out across the road, a throng of people gathered around the injured on the floor while the drivers on the opposite side of the road slow down to witness the desolation and four hours of backed up traffic sit waiting impatiently for the mess to be cleared up so they can carry on with their journey. This scene is not something made up from an over active imagination, but instead taken from memory as I passed identical scenes nearly every day of my stay in Cairo. The first time you witness these extracts of ruin, a sense of such profound sadness takes over as you quietly mourn the dead and empathise with the family. Yet sadness very quickly turns to anger and frustration as the waste of life that Egypt manages to churn out every day is truly staggering.

No one would doubt that Egypt has had a tumultuous few years; a revolution, a usurped President, the first democratic elections in thirty years and a brand new government does not make for plain sailing, yet the fact remains that the country was rolling out similar deathly statistics years before the revolution even began to surface. The Arab Spring heralded a new day for Egypt and its history, and for some short months the country was alive with the promise of a new dawn as its citizens turned over a collective new leaf. For the first time people hesitated to throw rubbish on the streets, they tripped over themselves to be kinder to their fellow man and everyone promised to be a better resident of their newly freed motherland. Despite these changes in its population, the death toll on the roads continued to climb and statistically it was proven that the roads became a more dangerous place post revolution. It seems the new found feelings of care and love did not extend into the various lanes of traffic.

Many people blame the motorists for reckless driving, attributing the loss of life directly at their door, yet one must consider that if you give a child a gun and leave him to play with it, it will undoubtedly be your fault when eventually he innocently kills himself with it. By creating an environment in which people can run free in killing machines without laws, rules or fear of retribution, the Egyptian government has effectively placed the gun to their temples, and pulled the trigger on 7,000 members of its population every year. A deteriorated infrastructure and non-existent laws, combined with a sinful disregard for those who die upon the hot tarmac every day has created a demi-hell on earth for a country yearning to rise from the ashes of an atrocious three decades. Instead of turning to foreign policy and attempting to foster great relationships with America, President Mohamed Morsi must turn his attention to his own country and the lives that are being needlessly lost, not just for moral and ethical reasons, but economically these accidents cost the country near to 16 billion Egyptian pounds within the space of a few years. A developing country that is endeavouring to stamp its place on the world map, cannot afford to spend money like that on factors that can be avoided.

As the rose tinted glasses of a post revolution world begin to wear off, promises fade and old resentments begin to pile upon a new government that must be held accountable for its actions. Allowing the transport minister Mohamed Rashad El-Matini to resign from his post is not enough, real change needs to be initiated. Preventive measures must be put in place in order to address the problem, as opposed to merely compensating those affected after catastrophe has occurred. In the wake of these accidents, President Morsi vowed to take all the necessary steps needed to compensate the families and stated that those who caused the accident would not be allowed to get away with their actions. He has yet to realise that the main culprit in this particular case is only himself. As President, sworn to protect his people and lead them to safety at all times, he is very willingly playing the role of the pied piper, leading his people like lambs to the slaughter. For there is no other word to describe it; when the leader of a country allows over 30,000 injuries and deaths to occur per year to his people, without implementing any new measures of avoidance, it is nothing short of slaughter.

Salma El-Wardany