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Amid Ride-Booking Rivalries, Many Cairo Women Turn To Uber For Safe Passage


In Cairo, there's a new angle on what's becoming a pretty familiar story in cities around the world. Ridesharing services like Uber are threatening taxi drivers' livelihoods, and the government is considering limiting or banning them. And in Egypt, that's upset many women who complain about sexual harassment in regular cabs. NPR's Leila Fadel starts her report in a Cairo Uber.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Ahmed Islami's car smells like pine trees. In the backseat are chocolates and bottles of water on offer.

AHMED ISLAMI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He wants that five-star rating, so he keeps his car clean. He doesn't smoke. And there's another thing he does that makes Uber particularly popular in Cairo. He follows the sexual harassment training the company gave him, like not staring at women in his rearview mirror. But these days, being an Uber driving in Cairo is dicey. Taxi drivers are irate that Uber and a similar Dubai-based company called Careem are taking their business.

ISLAMI: (Through interpreter) I'm scared to work because of the taxis. I'm afraid the driver will see I'm Uber and break my mirrors or hit my car from behind.

FADEL: The tension in Cairo is similar to those in many cities. Taxi drivers in Egypt pay more than $5,500 for their license plates. Their meters are regulated, so they can't charge what they want. Meanwhile, Uber pays none of the fees, and their charges aren't regulated.

MAHMOUD ABDEL HAMID: (Through interpreter) I want the government to shut down Uber and Careem and tell them get out of Egypt. They been working for over a year illegally.

FADEL: That's Mahmoud Abdel Hamid. He heads an association of taxi drivers. He says taxi drivers are making half as much money as they used to, and in a country were protests are practically banned, taxi drivers have been allowed to stage mass demonstrations. When asked about all the complaints about taxi drivers - things like rigging fares and harassment - he says they're getting a bad rap because of the actions of a few drivers. But Uber has won clients because of how it trains its drivers on an issue most important to women.

ANTHONY EL-KHOURY: Specifically in Egypt, which is one of the first worldwide, is they get trained on understanding what is sexual harassment. What we try to build with the training is really education.

FADEL: That's Anthony el-Khoury, the general manager for Uber Egypt. He cites a study showing that nearly every woman in Egypt has been a victim of sexual harassment, and Uber wants to help change that. He goes over the driver's manual.

EL-KHOURY: What to do when you get harassed and when you see harassment. So you have the two pages on what is sexual harassment.

FADEL: It describes different kinds of harassment, from cat calling to groping to threats of rape. It encourages drivers to report harassment if they witness it and warns about the seriousness of the crime.


FADEL: It's because of this women really like Uber. In a cafe, I chat with Sarah Carr, a British Egyptian whose been particularly outspoken about taxis on social media.

SARAH CARR: I like to sit on clean seat and not be subjected to loud music and cigarette smoke and a bloke asking me if I'm married. And I just like to go from A to B without the hassle or a fight over a meter.

FADEL: Recently she asked a taxi driver to turn down the music. He refused because he wanted to hear it.

CARR: I know that they have to compete with Cairo traffic and police officers wanting bribes, but there's no reason that that has to translate into sexual harassment of female passengers.

FADEL: Cairo is stressful enough. The traffic is insane. The bureaucracy is maddening. And then there is the intense political repression. Carr says the last thing she wants when she goes out is a fight with a taxi driver who flirts, stares, asks invasive questions and then tries to rig the fare. Leila Fadel, NPR news, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.