Uber Revolution In Egypt Challenges Gender Roles Behind The Wheel

dpa, Berlin

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) More uber apps are being installed on smartphones in Egypt. Although it may be disturbing to some, WOMEN are stepping up to answer the call and drive.

CAIRO

Rehab Mahran is part of the Egyptian Revolution and so she has to take some abuse for it.

Men are incredulous, sometimes negative. Others are afraid. She gets accused of being a sinner.

So what's the problem? Mahran is driving a car. Or more precisely, driving for Uber. She is one of the first female drivers for the internet transport service in Egypt.

Egypt is a country where it is the men who drive taxis and limousines. That has always been so and will always remain so -- at least the men thought. It is a society that is conservative and ridden with patriarchal prejudices and customs. One is that the man's place is behind the steering wheel. Mahran thinks otherwise.

"I decided to cross over these boundary lines," she said, laughing so heartily that her golden jewellery swings back and forth.

Mahran's story is also that of the transport service Uber, which is experiencing a boom in the Middle East. The app from Silicon Valley is being installed on more and more smartphones in Egypt, and more and more people are making use of the GPS-guided callup service to collect them where they are and take them to their next destination.

Uber started up in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, in 2014 and since then around 50,000 drivers have signed up for it. Among them are also a few hundred women.

The youthful boss of Uber in Egypt, Abdellatif Waked, says that allowing female drivers is all about providing equal opportunity in society.

"Promoting women is one of our main concerns," the 29-year-old says. There had been some previous projects for women, for example the "Pink Taxi" reserved only for women that made the news in 2015. But comparatively few women drivers were employed for it.

For Uber, Egypt is one of the most rapidly-growing markets in the world. And this has triggered some resistance. The taxi drivers union wants to get a court injunction banning Uber as well as another competitor, Careem. The case is currently being handled in an administrative court in Cairo.

In his company's office in Cairo, Waked can only smile at such legal challenges. "Everything will turn out all right," he says. Uber is a revolutionary technology that is changing reality. But he admits there are some problems.

"One challenge is that the technical basis here is not the same as in the United States," he says. Uber needs to access online mapping information in order to bring a driver and a client together and then find the way to the destination.

In Cairo, with its 20 million people and disastrous traffic conditions, sometimes even the internet is overtaxed: street directions are constantly changing, roads are blocked, there are traffic jams, accidents. And then Uber has another problem to cope with -- the drivers.

Many people in Egypt can't read a map and so have problems operating a navigation system. This affects the quality of the service and as a result, some users are dissatisfied, mockingly saying that Uber had been "Egyptianized."

And yet Uber has one advantage in Egypt that weighs more heavily than is the case in other countries: the harassment of women. What abets the harrassment is that the perpetrators easily remain anonymous, be they men on the next street corner -- or possibly a taxi driver.

At Uber -- and at Careem -- the data for each ride are recorded. The identities of both the driver and the guest, as well as the exact time and place of the ride, are also recorded. This creates more security.

This had also been a worry for Rehab Mahran. "My greatest concern as a female driver is safety. After all, I would also be working at night and have strangers sitting next to me in the car," she said. But so far, she has never been confronted by a really dangerous situation. Some men will try to flirt. Others will comment on her driving skills. But when they notice that she is doing a good job, they usually pipe down.

And, she reports, most of her male guests treat her respectfully and encourage her in breaking through the men's domain. A further male privilege also goes by the wayside when the guests are a married couple. Then, the women often demand that their husbands sit in the back.

Mahran is pretty certain why this is so. The women are jealous and so prefer to sit up front themselves -- next to the woman at the steering wheel.

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