Wasaa lel agala! so goes the slogan of the Cairo Cycler’s Club (CCC) – “Make way for bikes!
Founded in October 2007 by Ismail Marmoush and Ahmed Hamzawy, the Facebook group now has a following of over 650 online members. Last Friday saw over 50 members turning up at the Korba Festival, paving the way for a revolution in Cairo.
Remarking on the rise of fuel prices and growing pollution, they chanted “Mafeesh benzin! Mafeesh dukhaan! (No petrol! No Pollution!) Quite logically, they asserted, “Make way for bikes!
The group travelled to the event from as far afield as Maadi and Obour, after gathering at meeting points in Zamalek, Ain Shams and Heliopolis. Many of them took the long route back home on two wheels.
“You put a lot of effort, in work, in life, and you don’t see change, said Yehia El-Decken, a group member. Decken, who runs a travel agency, saw the CCC as a vehicle for “social change, which is “doing something that is actually working.
“We tried to do something and it actually takes place. When we do cycle together, it s not so much about direct benefit – it’s affecting the entire community.
When asked whether members were joining for health benefits, Decken said, “I don’t feel – driving behind a car – that the air is healthy for me. But I feel if we all do this, cycling together, then it will be healthy for the city.
For member Inji El-Abd, the world looks different from atop a bike. “I noticed the city more by bike. It makes you more aware. I like the pace.
Overall, the crowd reacted positively, but gave the “occasional smart comment, said El-Abd, amused by the “classical question, “Howaa entu Masreyeen? or “Are you Egyptian?
It was good we got Sawy’s support, said El-Abd, referring to Mohamed El-Sawy, director of the Sawy Culture Wheel, who helped design and produced t-shirts for the group, also providing parking slots for bikes in Korba.
Founder Marmoush felt transformed, “I felt like it’s not me – shouting ‘wasaa lel agala!’ – it’s totally not me.
Marmoush’s cousin, who arrived at the event cycling all the way from Obour city, was shocked to see the otherwise sober Marmoush, shouting out slogans and leading the cyclists with zeal.
“I felt like somebody else. It was life-changing, said Marmoush about the event. “All these people and all these cameras, and this wish coming true.
Many members shared a common sentiment – they had previously felt “alone in their desire to cycle or wield other forms of change. The cycling club had inspired many to buy their first bikes, and one member, who prefers to remain anonymous for the moment, was further encouraged to go ahead and publish her first novel, which will be launched shortly.
When co-founder Ahmed Hamzawy first followed Marmoush’s example in December, he took all his money and borrowed some from his father to buy his bike. Marmoush found this spontaneity and courage typical of the club’s active members.
Cairo Cycler’s Club was not the only organization trying to turn things around in Egypt at the event. Keep Egypt Clean also had a booth with the movement slogan “Be Positive, targeting awareness regarding recycling. Like CCC, Keep Egypt Clean also has Facebook presence in the form of a project with a following of over 5,000 members. Again, the number of active members is relative small at around 20.
“In real life the window is very narrow – your friends, the guys you see at work and the interest is very narrow, said co-founder, Amr Hassaan, an engineering postgraduate student. “Facebook and online things make the reach of groups very wide.
Keep Egypt Clean were invited to the event by The Suzanne Mubarak Foundation, who officially sponsored the Korba Festival along with the district of Heliopolis.
They distributed flags and flyers while also collecting materials to be recycled. Interestingly, the dustbins carrying the slogan “Be Positive used for the event itself were recycled from an environmental project in Ain Shams three years ago.
Keep Egypt Clean and the CCC also have in common the fact that they were founded as a grassroots movement. The group consists of Hassaan and Ahmed Nounou from Cairo University who joined forces with Ahmed Tawakol, who had launched the online Facebook project. Both parties conducted independent “trials in environmental work on their campuses.
The volume of waste collected at the event was overwhelming. Hassaan said, “Although cleaners cleaned up [waste] three times, the amount was huge.
Unfortunately, Egypt currently does not have the infrastructure to complete the recycling process, said Hassaan, and the material collected will inevitably end up in a common dump to be sorted later.
However, the target for Keep Egypt Clean was to raise awareness, which Hassaan positively concluded was “80 percent complete.
The next project, he added, is “Mantaqetna Agmal (A More Beautiful District), which entails cleaning up and beautifying a section of Ahmed Fakhry street in Heliopolis.
“The social standard there is relatively high, but the streets are not, said Hassaan. “Also, there is a big garden that should look more beautiful than it does now. We will work on this.
Environmental engineer Ahmed El-Dorghamy says initiatives for improvement have always existed, but since “this one was under Suzanne Mubarak, it made its way.
Dorghamy enthusiastically participates in both CCC and Keep Egypt Clean, but had mixed reactions to the event.
Always running alongside them on previous rides, Dorghamy brought his bicycle for the first time at the Korba event. “I’m always running. It was my first time on the bike. He has also previously given workshops and consultation to the Keep Egypt Clean group.
While he appreciated the groups’ efforts, Dorghamy was unsure about their audience at the Korba fest.He regretted that no camera captured the fiasco after 11 pm, when security signed out, and Korba was host to a different crowd.
As he distributed flags at the “Be Positive booth, Dorghamy was attacked by a crowd “like the queues for bread, fighting to get the giveaways “as if I was giving meat for free. In an ensuing scuffle, someone tried to steal his shirt, the CCC top he got at the event.
Still, Dorghamy found it important that the “Be Positive booth revealed a different Heliopolis, showcasing books with stories behind the street names and buildings in the area, while CCC promoted better health and more exercise.
“It’s nice to have Korba closed. I wish it would just be a pedestrian area. It’s really crowded all the time.
Marked as an event for peace, the Korba Festival this year has also hosted a number of youths thirsty for change, and willing to work for it. Like Marmoush of Cairo Cycler’s, said, quoting Gandhi, they “are the change they want to see.