A backseat thriller in Cairo

To pass the boredom of the Egyptian capital's congested streets, some taxis have started carrying books for passengers, a scheme that is catching on.

The oft-lamented state of literacy in the region has just received an unlikely, yet welcome, boost. Cairo's taxis carry not television sets or blaring music - but books for their discerning passengers.

Fifty cabs, aptly titled "Taxis of Knowledge", have now been provided with tomes to leaf through from Alef Bookstores, a savvy Egyptian chain. Traffic jams have made commuting an onerous task, and the books are likely to relieve the boredom for captive audiences. "The feedback we've got so far is very positive, as we are in daily contact with the drivers in charge of the portable libraries," Wael Abdullah, the head of PR for the bookseller, told Al Arabiya.

"This encourages us to expand the initiative so that the number of taxis would reach 500. We also want to take the project to other cities like Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea."

Egypt was once the home of the world's largest libraries and a veritable repository of knowledge. Perhaps Cairo's budding book initiative can carry on this tradition. "Now, some people prefer to take a taxi of knowledge," Sami Hassan Omar, a 58-year-old cabbie, said. "They are getting more interested in the books we have and some of them actually buy them." The initiative has scope for expansion; the region's buses and water-taxis might be tempted to follow suit.