Taxi driver loses life in protest

Salma El-Wardani , Wednesday 4 May 2011

Taxi drivers demand compensation for defective cars bought from the government while their protest takes a bloody turn


"The White Taxi Drivers' League mourns Haj Eid Mahmoud, martyr, who was killed by minister of finance agents. He died while asking for our rights," tells a sign on more than a dozens cabs parked in front of Nasr City Hospital.

Haj Eid was one of dozens of white taxi drivers who went on protest Tuesday in front of the Ministry of Finance building. Then a car came out suddenly of the ministry's garage and hit three drivers. The incident left one dead and two injured.

The drivers were holding signs with their demands, just as they did the next day, when standing in front of the hospital waiting for the body to be examined by prosecutors.

This is the second time the body has been examined.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor released the driver of the runaway car, after fining him LE57 ($10) on the charge of unintended killing. "We had to go and discuss with the prosecutors again, and convince them to re-examine the body. The ministry's car didn't have a car plate on its back. It went back and forward on the body after it hit Haj Eid," said Ali, a relative of the victim.

The prosecutor accepted to reopen investigations after it re-examined the body.

Waiting for burial papers to be completed, drivers expressed their disappointment. "Yesterday evening, the minister of finance said on TV that we refuse to pay the taxis' installments. This is not true," says Mahmoud, one of the drivers gathered at the hospital's gate.

The drivers claim they are being framed.

The white taxi project was launched by the former finance minister to counter the effect of the world economic crisis in 2008. The idea was to offer new taxi cars at easy credit rates in exchange of taking old cabs to be recycled.

This boosted the car industry, hit by the economic slowdown, and introduced a more just fare system for drivers. A win-win situation. Or at least that what was said then.

"They gave us bad cars. We are paying some LE900 per month for a junk car," complains Abu Adam.

He showed photocopied official documents proving that his car has eight manufacturing defects. The document is certified by the Industrial Control Authority. "Many spare parts are of poor quality. I had to replace them at a very high cost, and I keep replacing them again and again," says Abu Adam, who bought his car a year ago.

"This project was only meant to maintain the (car makers') profits. We discovered this at our expense," said another driver.

The problem concerns mainly one brand: Esperanza, a chinese car assembled in a factory owned by a tycoon car maker, Hossam Abul Fotouh.

"We filed many complaints at the Consumer Protection Body. After investigations, they referred the case to the prosecutor-general, who passed the case to the Economic Court. At the first session, the judge ruled that this case falls out of the Economic Court's mandate."

The drivers were back to square one. But this was before the 25 January Revolution. After the revolution, hopeful drivers, organised themselves in an independent league. They hoped for fair and decent treatment after a new minister of finance was appointed.

They demand postponing payment of monthly repayment instalments, due to the post-revolution slowdown of economic activity, in addition to a fair technical examination of the cars to assess their defects.

"Samir Radwan looked like a decent man. But he is denying our rights," said Ashraf Abdel Halim, head of the drivers' league.

Abu Adam shows another document: a news story published about a court ruling for the benefit of a car owner against Abul Fotouh, including a LE55,000 fine on the factory for the car's defects that jeopardised the life of a whole family.

"The car owner is a judge himself. That was why his case was quickly ruled. We carry women and children every day. Don’t we have the right to drive safe cars? In Europe we would have been given millions in compensation. The revolution did not deliver yet."

At that point, the car carrying Haj Eid's body appeared from the hospital. Drivers ran to their cars. A cortege of hundreds of white cars blocked the long road leading to the Ministry of Finance.

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