Originally published in the Daily News Egypt.
Why do we still live in Cairo?
I ask myself this question every day, as I , like millions of others, curse every god in heavens as I try to navigate my way through the streets of Cairo to get from one neighborhood to the other. Every morning I am filled with dread before heading out into the ever-shrinking streets of this gloriously overpopulated city, and the tweets of the #cairotraffic hashtag on my phone, filled with curses, pleas for help and the rare glimmer of hope of an not overly populated route, compound the stress and the misery. Every morning I feel as if I am about to willingly enter a psychotic mega game of bumper-cars, while only hoping that I make it to my destination not overly late and with my car intact. And every morning, as hours of my life keep passing by, I ask myself that same question: Why do we live in Cairo?
People live in cities for three reasons: Quality of Life, Financial opportunity, and socialization, and this city makes a mockery out of all of them. The quality of life, without the huge army of (car cleaning, house-cleaning, delivery of everything) slaves- and given their wages, they are no better than slaves- to supplement it, would be pitiful. Imagine if there was no delivery of anything for a second, and you had to go out, to the streets of Cairo, to get everything yourself. Horrifying, isn’t it? Socialization is also suspect, since the hostility of the city towards everyone and everything makes social outings an obligation more than a pleasure most of the time, with people staying later than any sane person would on work-days, just so that they don’t face traffic on their way home, and yet sometimes, somehow they still manage to. There really isn’t a single reason to live in this city outside financial opportunity, and with its rising costs, even that reason is becoming suspect. Everything is so expensive that we live on credit, which, if you take a look at Spain, Greece, Italy or even the US, is not a good idea long-term wise. Yet everyone stays, unless it’s to get out of the country completely, and more keep coming to this glorified mouse-trap, because all the companies are here; and the companies are here because the other companies are here. And nobody ever questions the logic of this, even though it’s very easy to.
Sure, Cairo is the business center of Egypt, but that doesn’t mean we need to be based here to do business here. In reality, other cities offer cheaper rent, cost of living, and all of the amenities that we need, and since most of us do our work via email anyway, there is literally no reason why people of capital choose to start new businesses here. The question of why not move the businesses elsewhere, while maintaining satellite/virtual offices or shared work spaces here-which would minimize the costs dramatically- is one that somehow never gets answered convincingly. We are here, because everyone else is here, and we envy and hate on anyone who manages to set-up their business elsewhere.
So, where would we move, you would ask? Well, it really depends on how far you want to remove yourself from the city victorious, but the short answer is the coasts. If you want close proximity to Cairo, Ein Sokhna, Ismaelia and Port Said are all excellent options: You are living on the beach, rent is cheap, the infrastructure is there, there is virtually no traffic, and you are one hour away by car or bus, which if you worked in advertising, marketing, training or consulting companies, is quite perfect. If you are looking for something slightly further, the North Coast is the answer: all of the aforementioned reasons, with even less people, and millions of residential units that are empty for the supreme majority of the year, and if you need a city, there is always Alexandria. Why people working in IT have not moved there yet to create their own silicon valley is beyond me. There are also the Borg elarab and Alamein airports available, for both consumer and cargo travel, awaiting people to move there to be fully operational. With a little bit of imagination and investment, the Nrothcoast could become a huge business hub. Yet no one is moving there.
As for those who are looking for a clean getaway, Sharm and Hurghada await you. They have all the things mentioned before, plus a ton of hotels, restaurants and outings. Why the Egyptian cinema industry isn’t based in the former, with production companies like Good News building studios in 6 of October instead of Sharm ElSheikh, or why the Telecom industry don’t base their main offices in Hurghada, is beyond me, even though it’s quite obvious to everyone that those cities might require a more sustainable income next to tourism, and that the cost of living and doing business there is significantly less than in Cairo.
Yes, some people have family ties and responsibilities that make it impossible to leave Cairo, but for the rest of us, there is no excuse not to get out. Down with New Cairo and 6 October compounds, for they might give us a reprieve from traffic when we get home, but any trip into the city- whether through the always crowded Mehwar or the Death trap called the ring road- becomes a crucible, and if we are going to live desert land anyway, we might as well have a beach nearby. I know that Big Corporations will probably require things like government planning and tax incentives to move elsewhere, but Small and medium enterprises don’t. So dear SME owners and people intent on opening new businesses: Do us all a favor and move. We are all waiting for our way out, and, right now, you are our only hope.