Visitors to Cairo are always struck by its traffic. Sitting in seemingly endless traffic jams is an important feature of trying to get around the city. Beyond its inadequate mass transit system, another significant problem is the city’s car culture. Although huge numbers of short journeys have the potential to be made quickly and easily by bike, it is rare to see people cycling in Cairo (bread delivery boys excluded). There are two standout reasons that make Cairenes hesitant about cycling: the (somewhat justified) view that cycling is highly dangerous in Cairo’s clogged streets, and an association between cycling and poverty, on the understanding that only those that cannot afford a car would choose to ride a bike.
Slowly, however, something of a popular movement towards cycling amongst the Cairene middle class is starting to emerge. At the forefront of the movement are groups like Ain Cycles. They have been customizing and selling bikes in Cairo since 2014, working to encourage the growth of a cycling culture in the city. Recently they went a step further, and opened a community cycle hub in the community centre Darb 1718 in Fustat, old Cairo. The goal is that is acts as a meeting place and workshop for cycle enthusiasts as well as a place for anyone interested in bikes to learn more. Volunteering is central to the project, with the founders offering free workshop space and access to parts at cost price to anyone willing to work as a volunteer mechanic in the project. They are also holding training sessions at the workshop on bike maintenance to empower citizens more widely to be able to look after and keep using their bikes.
Despite promises to increase investment, the Egyptian government under president Sisi has so far failed to make significant strides towards easing Cairo’s crippling congestion. Projects like this one are an example of how citizens can move to take up the slack of government neglect. Yet the small scale of the project and others like it, which is unlikely to change soon, show that we cannot simply expect civil society to make up for incompetant governance. Ain Cycles itself has already had significant problems importing parts as a result of high costs and beaurocratic obstacles arising from the imposition of higher import tariffs by the Egyptian government. While it is undeniable that small organisations like Ain Cycles can solve the city’s problems by themselves, lets hope, at the very least, the government can get out of their way long enough to let them do some good.