CAIRO -- Amid swirling dust and chaotic traffic that typify the streets of urban Egypt, the entrance to Cairo's new subway is incongruously pristine -- and French.

From bustling Tahrir Square, the hub of this city, broad stairways sweep down into the cavernous marble-lined hall of what might be the Metro of Paris. Shiny metal turnstiles are ready to accept the magnetically coded tickets that next week will begin to offer millions of Cairenes a new way to commute.

After six years of work, led by the companies that modernized the Paris Metro, a small replica of the French capital's system is to open here Saturday. Its expected ridership -- about 800,000 people per day -- is a reminder of the scale of this city and its problems. By comparison, Washington's Metro carries about 500,000 riders each day, but does it with 60 stations spread over 70 miles of track. Cairo's Metro is a single line with six stations.

The Metro -- the first in Africa -- is an attempt to ease Cairo's daily struggle to move its 14 million people where they need to go. Streets here are choked with traffic, and packed rush-hour buses growl through them with dozens of riders clinging to their sides in what is a long daily ordeal. A housekeeper or other laborer working in the center of town spends an hour each day on the buses just to commute from Heliopolis, five miles away.

If, when empty, the Cairo Metro seems more French than Egyptian, it is the crowds of Cairenes that will change its character after President Hosni Mubarak and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac inaugurate it. Instead of a Parisian ambience, the Cairo Metro will reflect the Egyptian capital's varied population: westernized bank clerks and government workers in suits and prim ensembles, manual laborers wearing the long traditional robes called galabayas and some black-robed peasants balancing baskets of fruit on their heads.

With the French-directed construction ending, the stations are being Egyptianized. Tahrir station, the biggest, with 18 entrances, has been given a second name, Sadat. A huge bronze relief of the late president Anwar Sadat decorates the wall opposite the ticket counter.

Mosaics of Pharaonic Egypt's Queen Nefertiti have been inlaid on the corridor walls that lead to the subway platforms, a reminder of the station's proximity to the Egypt Museum and its wealth of antiquities. On the platforms, art students have laid colorful mosaic murals whose themes were copied from the pharoahs' tombs.

Another station, located at the huge Ramses bus terminal, is dedicated to President Mubarak and a third honors Gamal Abdel Nasser, the nationalist military officer who toppled the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 and came to symbolize his country.

Cairo's adaptation of its Paris-style subway involves more than decor. Most of Egypt's people are illiterate, rendering signs useless in helping them find their way through the stations. A loudspeaker system will provide announcements -- and the government has been trying to prepare commuters with television spots that explain the layout and the workings of the subway line.

Charles Carlier, managing director of the French consortium that built the line, said, "For six years, {the Metro} was the biggest project in Egypt. It was extremely necessary for Cairo to modernize itself. All big cities, except for Lagos {Nigeria}, have a metro."

The project began in 1981 with a French government loan to Egypt of several hundred million dollars. The first year was spent setting up work sites and diverting more than 100 miles of underground water, gas and electric cables -- a task slowed because the Cairo authorities weren't sure where they were.

"Fortunately," said Robert Dutournier, a French engineer on the project, "we didn't find any antiquities. That would have made the delays even longer."

Actual work on the Metro tunnel began in 1982. At the height of building, 4,200 workers, including 350 French, swarmed over the sites. The nightmare of Cairo's traffic was worsened as streets were closed off and traffic detoured. Tahrir Square became a huge construction site.

In addition to the tunnel, the builders constructed a high-voltage power station in the desert south of Cairo to supply electricity -- and a factory to manufacture the concrete blocks used to build the Metro's tunnel and stations.

A cooling system, which uses ice water and huge ventilators, was added to keep Cairo's sweltering heat out of the tunnels, 30 feet underground.

The line runs from Helwan, an industrial area on Cairo's southern fringes, to the center of town. Its trains will run every three minutes, officials say, and the Metro will be able to carry 60,000 passengers each way every hour.

French executives say the Egyptians are fully able to operate the complex facility. Egyptian workers have been trained in France to run the signals, switches and electrical controls. Still, the French are under contract to maintain the Metro for two years -- and, if the two countries can reach a deal to finance it, they could build a second line that has already been laid out.

After long deliberations, the government set the ticket price at 25 to 50 piasters, the equivalent of 10 to 25 cents, depending on the length of a ride. Such a low price will require heavy government subsidies, but in a poor country such as Egypt, high prices for mass transportation are politically risky.