Thursday, March 06, 2008

They Do Need Those Stinkin' Badges

One of the oldest clichés in journalism is interviewing a taxi driver to find out what the man on the street thinks. The radio show Marketplace Morning Report has been running stories from Egypt all week. Here is one in which the reporter interviews Khaled Al Khamissi, who has a forthcoming book about what you can learn about life in Cairo from its taxi drivers. This excerpt struck me as particularly telling about the costs of big, intrusive government:

Khaled Al Khamissi: Many people speak about oppression in terms of political oppression. But what we suffer here in Egypt, it is the economical oppression. Egypt has a potential, and this potential is gone 100 percent.

Jagow: One hundred percent. That sounds pretty hopeless.

Al Khamissi: Yes. I think we are in a hopeless situation, and the people has to work 20 hours a day to survive.

Jagow: Khaled, can you give me a story, one that stands out to you, that might represent the book?

Al Khamissi: I can tell you one story. It's about a taxi driver. He told me that a police officer, after one hour in the taxi, he ask him, "Give me your ID." And he knew that he wants money. And then he gave him 5 pounds. And the officer told him, "This is not enough." He gave him 10 pounds. And these 10 pounds are the only this taxi driver has in five or six hours' work.

If the officer had stuck his gun in the driver’s face and demanded 10 pounds straight up, we would call it armed robbery. I am hard-pressed to see the difference.



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