Road to Cairo airport becomes dangerous maze after curfew

Roadblocks and barricades slow traffic between airport and centre of Egyptian capital

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi gather on the Nile corniche in the Maadi district of Cairo yesterday to protest against the recent killing of protesters by Egyptian security forces. Photograph: Ed Giles/Getty Images).

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi gather on the Nile corniche in the Maadi district of Cairo yesterday to protest against the recent killing of protesters by Egyptian security forces. Photograph: Ed Giles/Getty Images).

Mon, Aug 19, 2013, 01:00

The road from the international airport to Cairo is strewn with roadblocks and checkpoints. They begin just beyond the airport’s perimeter in the upscale Heliopolis suburb, where army and airforce headquarters and the Ittihadiya presidential palace are located along with grand mansions, parks, cafes and restaurants and offices of international agencies and foreign firms.

Most of the district is shuttered. Lights glow softly from high-rise flats where fearful Cairenes wait out the violent storms in the streets.

It is more than an hour beyond the seven o’clock curfew but there are cars on the broad highway, some with piles of luggage on roof racks, others filled with people on serious missions.


Rifled suitcases
Barricades prevent us from getting anywhere near military and presidential sites. The checkpoints, flanked by armoured scout cars and troop carriers, are manned by polite, uniformed and helmeted soldiers who carefully check passports and identity cards. They examine car boots and back seats before giving the go- ahead. One soldier spends several minutes rifling through my suitcase before zipping it closed and slamming the boot lid.

Some barricades consist of armoured vehicles parked across a road or intersection, others of metal fences manned by soldiers or men in civilian clothes. At a roundabout, I’m asked by a man in a plaid shirt for my passport. “I’m a policeman,” he says, with a smile. I look around at his team of bulky men bearing Kalashnikovs and wonder who exactly these auxillaries are.

We navigate the dark streets, confused by obstacles seemingly set to prevent us from reaching the centre of the city.


Wrong way road
Shops selling fruit, cold drinks and snacks remain open, men sit in dimly lit cafes smoking water pipes, children circle on bikes on streets free from traffic, and cars drive the wrong way along our lane flashing headlights as their lane is closed. Young couples, men in T-shirts and women in headscarves and flowing skirts, whizz by on motor bikes, in disdainful breach of the curfew.

We cross the Nile via October 6th Bridge, which is almost empty of traffic, and drive along the deserted corniche past the twin towers of the Marriott Hotel to July 26th Avenue where, in front of Diwan bookshop, neighbourhood-watch men have established a checkpoint. Apologetically they search the boot and quickly open and close my case – the third or fourth time.

There is yet another checkpoint at Ismail Mahmoud Street where my hotel is located. This one, managed by teenagers, is made from a sea-bleached log and bicycle tyres hung on ropes stretched between trees.

A chunky boy in a red shirt stands in front of the car, daring us to move forward, but reluctantly moves off once we pass muster and the ropes are lowered. We arrive safe and sound after a 90-minute journey that should have taken half an hour.