Obstacles aside, Egyptian parkour off and running

Wed, Mar 28

Cairo might seem like an unlikely place for parkour to take root. The free-spirited sport with French roots -- in which athletes navigate urban environments with acrobatic techniques -- does not necessarily mesh with Egyptian society's conservative norms.

But it does provide an outlet for young Cairenes to get out their energy amid the pressures of life in the Egyptian capital. Endless traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a dearth of public parks makes exercising difficult, and parkour is these youths' answer to the constant stress.

"No one understands the concept of parkour," Eslam Halawany, 24, said. "They don't understand that we're playing a sport that has goals, physical fitness, challenges, and a spirit of adventure."

Dozens of young men in their teens and 20s gather throughout the week to practice. They teach each other how to flip, jump and fly through the air, often mimicking moves they've learned from video clips on YouTube and Facebook.

Cairo's concrete overpasses, buildings and other urban obstacles would normally make up the perfect parkour playground, yet Egyptian parkour enthusiasts feel more comfortable in the few parks and sports complexes available to them -- away from the confused and sometimes hostile eyes of other Egyptians.

"The game is new to them and they still don't know anything about it," Sayed Ceka, 20, said. "We're trying to teach them about parkour, one by one."

Parkour first made its way to Egypt in the last decade, and in the past year the group built a special park and has tried to form an Egyptian parkour association

"We exhaust ourselves," Halawany said. "We train and push ourselves to the limit in order to achieve something good and to honor Egypt -- in order to honor our country."

Ben Gittleson is a freelance journalist in Cairo. Follow him on Twitter at @bgittleson.