Place: Cairo Distance: 10-ish kilometres Rating: Easier than building a pyramid Reason: Went to Egypt to observe the elections last year Route: From Nile City complex across Nile to Agouza and Zamalek, then to Tahrir Square and back t’s hard to leave your hotel to run Cairo if you’re not quite sure how the proverbial local chickens cross the road. Just as well that the traffic in Cairo’s mean streets lets up slightly in the week that we’re there, owing to it being the Islamic New Year. It turns the whole week into a bit of a long weekend.
On Fridays, the first weekend day for Muslim Egyptians, nobody goes to work anyway, so at least in the mornings, until midday prayers, the streets are runnable.
Even so, if getting up early while the other 15 999 999 people in the supposed 24-hour city that is Cairo are still sleeping (including the lot who partied the night away with a live band right under my window) is a tad difficult, the sight of the sun rising over the Nile is an incentive to get me out there.
Aiming for the Imbaba Bridge, I turn right out of the hotel entrance, with its heavy security and X-ray scanners, and heroically cross the Corniche el-Nil Road that runs along the great river.
On the other side of the Nile is the Giza governorate, where elections are due the week after this one. There are posters up everywhere, but my lack of Arabic means I can’t decipher any of them. Leaving aside the debate about the legitimacy of the elections, it’s good to see female candidates up there too.
The Giza side of the river seems even dirtier than this side, but the views of the sun rising over the Nile behind the palm trees are a good reward.
Zamalek, occupying the northern portion of the lengthy Gezira Island in the middle of the Nile, seems to be a bit neater. It is an affluent suburb playing host to many diplomats and expat workers.
Down the side of the bridge are petrol garages and hawkers setting up greasy falafel, fried onion, aubergine and chip stalls for the late-breakfast/post-prayer lunch crowd.
The leafy path on the eastern embankment of the island makes for pleasant running, and the views remain spectacular. It eventually leads to the Saad Zaghloul Pasha statue, which stands 16 metres high in front of the opera house on the one end of the Qasr el-Nil Bridge.
Zaghloul was an Egyptian revolutionary and statesman, and served as the country’s prime minister for 10 months in 1924. He was the leader of Egypt’s nationalist Wafd Party and fought against British occupation.
When the statue was unveiled in 1938 (along with a statue of him in Alexandra), it faced the Qasr el-Nil Barracks, which housed the British army and where the Nile Hilton now stands. Zaghloul’s raised finger had the delicious ambiguity of showing him in an oratory pose, or showing the British the finger – alas, not a middle one.
Zaghloul’s exile in 1919 sparked a revolution in Egypt, so it is perhaps fitting that, just across this bridge, is Tahrir Square (meaning Liberation Square), home of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.
The square is huge, but it isn’t one big, open, pedestrian-friendly zone. Some of Cairo’s killer roads run through it too.
After passing quite a few coffee shops and falafel stalls that are opening or hosting early morning customers, I return to Corniche el-Nil Road to take in more views.
Down below, a lone man is fishing from a dilapidated little wooden boat marooned on the river bank. It’s not about to cast off anytime soon, due to all the water leaking into it.
It makes me think about Egypt’s tourism business, which has gone down by about a third since the 2011 revolution.
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THE BIG FISH River
A man waits for a bite in a waterlogged boat along the banks of the Nile
VOTE OF THANKS A poster from the 2015 parliamentary elections can be seen along the running route around Cairo