"You watch Egypt on television and it's like Vienna; you go out on the street and it's like Somalia's cousin."
These words expressed by a tuk-tuk driver could describe the worries of everyday Egyptians after consumer prices have surged and many vital food commodities have disappeared. Meanwhile, some accuse members of the government of indulging in lives of luxury while at the same time calling for austerity among the public.
It was not the first video depicting a citizen complaining about the hardships of life. However, this particular video went viral on social media earlier this month as the tuk-tuk driver spoke out about the pains of Egyptians in a very simple manner. Some have agreed with the driver as a voice expressing the misery of the poorer classes, while others have accused him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and of staging the video — especially since Amr Ellissy, a TV anchor and adviser of former President Mohammed Morsi, interviewed him in the street.
“How [can] a state that has a parliament, security and military institutions, ministries of interior and foreign affairs, and 20 [other] ministries end up like this? Before the presidential elections, we had enough sugar and we would export rice. What happened? The top echelon spent 25 million pounds to celebrate, while the poor cannot find a kilogram of rice,” the driver said, alluding to the state ceremony to celebrate 150 years of parliamentary life in a three-minute-long video broadcast Oct. 12 on the “Wahed Men Ennass” show.
“The government keeps saying that Egypt is witnessing a renaissance, and it collects money for valueless national projects while our education is deteriorating like never before,” the driver continued, before Ellissy interrupted him, asking, “Where did you graduate from?”
“I’m a graduate of a tuk-tuk,” the driver answered.
The driver added, “How come such large national projects are constructed while we have starving, uneducated human beings whose health is deteriorating. There are three ways for the country to develop, and they are education, health and agriculture. Is this Egypt which gave Britain loans in the past, was the second country in the world to construct railways and whose cash reserves were the biggest in the world? How could we end up like this? Chad, Sudan and Saudi Arabia were part of Egypt, and now a bunch of Gulf countries make fun of us? Those dealers have tricked people under slogans of patriotism, freedom and social justice. Their promises are as far as they could get from democracy and justice. Enough is enough.”
The driver’s words caused a political uproar among the Egyptian public. The hashtag #IAmATukTukGraduate, launched on social media, trended on Twitter.
“This young man’s words prove that two years of the government’s takeover of the media and its attempts to brainwash the masses have failed because of three minutes of honesty,” human rights lawyer Negad El Borai said. Another Egyptian social media user said, “Egypt has succeeded in making such an enlightened and patriotic person end up as a tuk-tuk driver, the same way it succeeded in making Ahmed Moussa lead the media.”
“A tuk-tuk driver with the worth of 100 men says it all in seconds and gathered everyone to give a standing ovation. He summed up our decline from 1952 until this day. He does not criticize today’s government, but rather describes our miserable reality and tickles our enthusiasm and love for the country,” Egyptian billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris posted on his official Twitter account Oct. 13.
“The young man has spoken his heart out and faced a smear campaign by some and attempts to exploit his words for political interests by many others. He spoke our hearts out very warmly and honestly. His words emerge out of fear for this country, which deserves to be a million times better than this,” TV presenter Tamer Ameen said on his show “El Hayah El Youm.”
On the other hand, TV anchor Azmy Megahed criticized the driver, saying, “Amr Ellissy paid the driver 10,000 pounds to stage the tuk-tuk scene. This is so cheap and lacks honor. Where is his punishment?”
Over a phone call with the show "Inferad" on El Assema channel Oct. 14, Azmy added, “The driver belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, and he works in a school owned by the Muslim Brothers. Ellissy is a Muslim Brother as well, because he always works with the Brotherhood. The driver wears a polo shirt that I cannot afford.”
In a statement he made to Veto Gate on Oct. 13, Ellissy said that he filed a report with the public prosecutor against Megahed for his discrediting of the credibility of Ellissy’s show.
Ayten El Mougy used mocking vocabulary in a tweet, saying, “Such a country that likes a tuk-tuk driver and fights a director of military intelligence,” referring to the post President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held in the past as Egypt’s top spy.
“The Brotherhood train all their members who work as taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers or drivers of any other transportation that the people deal with directly on exploiting the crises, spreading despair and disappointment,” Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen of Omar Makram Mosque said.
He added, “This is not a trivial matter. This is grave and can lead to dangerous outcomes. With a simple calculation, those affiliated with the Brotherhood own 2,000 tuk-tuks and taxis. If we presume that each vehicle is boarded by 50 people each day, we have 100,000 people subjected to disappointment every day. In one month, 3 million citizens suffer from a disappointing atmosphere.”
“The Wahed Men Ennass video of the tuk-tuk driver was removed as El Hayah channel owns the copyrights. The video is still available on the page of the channel,” Ellissy said regarding the removal of the video from his official Facebook page. After he removed the video, Ellissy shared part of that episode without a comment. Later, El Hayah deleted the video permanently from its official YouTube channel.
“I received a phone call from Tamer Ouf, a political adviser of the Egyptian prime minister, as he wanted to meet with the tuk-tuk driver regarding his talk about the crisis the country has been going through,” Ellissy said. “The crew of the show has no information whatsoever about the driver ... he left immediately after he finished talking.”
The driver apparently disappeared after the video went viral out of fear of being persecuted by security agencies. “My brother is staying in a very distant place. He does not want problems with anyone. He did not mean to cause an uproar with the statements he made to Ellissy. He only spoke about the reality of the hard circumstances that he and others have to endure after the prices [surged] and after commodities such as sugar and rice disappeared,” Saa’d Abdel Azeem, the driver’s brother, told Veto Gate. “My husband is fine. He is staying in a distant place because he is worried about the safety of his children,” his wife added.
“Since the revolution of January 25, 2011, the political mentality of Egyptians has witnessed a speedy growth. It has become a phenomenon that some people could analyze the situation more realistically than political analysts,” Hassan Nafea, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor.
“Egyptian media is only expressing one voice, as it is supportive of the regime and is not tolerant of any different opinion. The media would launch smear campaigns accusing the opinionated of treason and collaboration with foreign regimes. The media atmosphere in Egypt is corrupt,” Nafea said.
Because of unemployment and declining wages, especially in poorer areas, teachers and students holding advanced degrees have to drive tuk-tuks after their daily working hours to add to their income. Tuk-tuks have become the most widely used transportation in Egypt.