Cairo's streets reflect uncertainty in Egypt gov't

Two Egyptian youths play table tennis while they occupy part of a street in Cairo March 25, 2012. AP Photo

(AP) CAIRO - The streets and sidewalks of Cairo have always been rather chaotic. But they've only gotten worse in the political turmoil as Egypt stumbles toward a new system following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

Street vendors selling clothes, food or household goods take over sidewalks and sometimes invade half the street, blocking vehicles. Garbage piles up on curbs. In some places, water sewage backs up and fills a street and is left for days without being repaired.

Traffic rules are often unenforced. It's normal to see cars driving the wrong way down streets. Three-wheeled motorized rickshaws known as "tok-toks," which used to be restricted to small back roads, now trundle down main thoroughfares, further jamming the flow.

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The cause, residents of the capital say, is that public services — from inspections to maintenance to building code enforcement — have largely been put on hold in the political uncertainty. Police who once kept a degree of order now only sporadically chase away street peddlers and ticket drivers. Things are so lax that some Egyptians have become convinced it is intentional, an attempt by supporters of Mubarak still in authority to show that his ouster only brought chaos.

It's a stark contrast to the early days of Egypt's "revolution," when protesters first took to the streets in January last year demanding Mubarak's ouster. Heady with a feeling of civic duty, activists went on street cleaning campaigns. Volunteers directed traffic and even fixed potholes.

After Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11, 2011, the military took power. The plan it set for transition to civilian rule has been mired in troubles.

Police fled the streets during the 18-day uprising against Mubarak and have only slowly been returning. There have been several temporary, military-appointed governments over the past year, and the various Cabinets are criticized for providing no leadership or direction. The Islamist-led parliament is demanding the ouster of the current government.

An elected president is supposed to take the reins from the military, but the lead-up to next month's planned election has been tumultuous. The election commission has disqualified 10 candidates, raising accusations the military is trying to manipulate the vote.

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