The world view of an Egyptian Taxi Driver

May 17, 2008 Published under Iran, Israel, Leadership, Middle East, Mideast Negotiations

Here is how my taxi driver related to world leaders and movements, which I found to be quite akin to the heartbeat of the Arab street from conversations over the last few months (and years). 


Mohammad Ali (not the boxer who serves on our board – the other one!) knew I was born in Mexico and a US citizen.  I asked him to rank people or countries, thumbs up or thumbs down.  Here were his rankings on 24 questions from Bush to Ahmadinejad, from Olmert to Nasrallah, from Bin Laden to Anwar Sadat:

  • Bush: thumbs down, he’s got crazy ideas in his head; the driver waits for my judgment, but I just listen, to ensure he will be comfortable; I ask the next one…
  • Mubarak: so so, he waves backwards to signal he belongs to the past;
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah: thumbs down;
  • Saudi King: thumbs down;
  • Israel: thumbs down, he says with an apologetic smile waiting for a reaction, but I don’t judge, so he will feel comfortable speaking;
  • Lebanon – "it has no Head" – "no capo" (majority of tourists in the Sinai region are now Italian, and he speaks a bit of that); no head, no control, no fate or future;
  • Hezbollah – he hesitates, then gives them thumbs up – they attacked Israel, you see;
  • Nasrallah – big thumbs up; he is a great speaker;
  • Ehud Olmert – thumbs down;
  • Ariel Sharon – he is in the hospital, so he doesn’t want to share with me that he’d otherwise give him a thumbs down, but needs to be kind to the ill, I guess;
  • I ask him about a few other Israeli and other Lebanese officials: he doesn’t recognize them; I ask about Prime Minister Siniora – he doesn’t know who he is; Saad Hariri – he knows he is the young Hariri, but doesn’t have an opinion about him;
  • Palestine: it has no head, no capo, it’s nothing;
  • President Abbas: he is weak;
  • Hamas: he hesitates, then gives them a tepid thumbs up;
  • Marwan Barghouti: big thumbs up;
  • Shimon Peres: a surprising big thumbs up – he is a good listener;
  • Bin Laden: complicated, used to be thumbs up, fought the Soviets, was America’s guy, then went kind of crazy; Al Qaeda is bad; Zawahiri is also thumbs down;
  • Ahmadinejad: hesitates, but offers up, he is Shiite, in the long-term bad (as if saying him standing up to Americans and Israel was good, but his ascendancy in the long term was not good)
  • Iran: thumbs down; they are Shiite; big no, no;
    • I ask, but you gave Nasrallah and Hezbolla thumbs up and they are Shiite – yes, but they are small, they don’t pose a threat now; maybe in the future, he ponders
  • Al Jazeerah: what type of question is that? They are the news.  {he sees them as objective, just showing the news}
  • Al Arabiyah – he thinks they are controlled by America; thumbs down;
  • Gamal Mubarak – thumbs way up, with some pride; I am surprised at this after the hesitant thumbs down against his father; why thumbs up? He is smart, a good businessman, represents the future;
  • Anwar Sadat? Here is a great surprise.  He goes wild with pride.  Big big thumbs up.  The greatest leader the Arab world has ever had.  But I ask, what about peace with Israel (which he gave a thumbs down)? Sadat was smart.  Peace is good.  Peace is Smart.  War is bad.  War makes us lose bread to put in our mouths. He then offers:

Israel before was small and weak, and wanted peace.  Peace is good.  Now Israel is big and strong.  It doesn’t care about peace.

  • Iraq: what Iraq? There is no more Iraq. What happened to Iraq, I ask? Before, it was strong. Now, no Iraq.  What is it now? America, Iran, split it to pieces.

If this ordinary guy, poor and uneducated yet far smarter and better informed than most average Americans has these opinions, the world is not totally lost.  The sum total of his world view (and that of most disenfranchised young in the Arab world) is that grassroots activism, transparency (and a reputation for it), and populism provide hope and potential for the new generations.  Peace and co-existence are consistent with the above.  Let’s hope people can sell that before it’s too late.  Wanted: Positive grassroots leaders and organizers in the Arab World.

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