A monument to red-tape

I walk past this on my way to work. It looks intimidating.

I walk past this on my way to work. It looks intimidating.

I haven’t had to deal with the Mogamma yet  since I’ve only been here for a little more than a week, but I’ve heard horror stories. It is the massive building in downtown Cairo (see photo above) where much of the city’s official bureaucracy takes place: where you apply for residency or a building permit or a new passport, etc. It’s not exactly known for efficiency.

Anyway, the AP ran a pretty good feature piece about Egyptian bureaucracy as told through Paul Schemm’s attempt to get his son registered in Egypt. (I find via the Arabist.)

It was an odd quest to begin with: I was seeking an entry stamp for Ray. His “port of entry” into Egypt was the delivery room at a Cairo hospital — and, not surprisingly, there was no customs official present. But for my wife and I to take him abroad for the first time, there had to be a record in his passport of his arrival.

That meant a journey through a notorious bureaucracy that millions of Egyptians navigate every day. According to one study, it takes each person an average of nine hours and 3.5 visits to a government office to complete a transaction like getting a building permit or school transfer.

Egyptians deal with it through resigned endurance, bribes and appeals for help from “wasta,” Arabic for “connections” — well-placed officials, usually in the police or military. Global Integrity, an non-profit group tracking governance and corruption, gives Egypt’s anti-corruption mechanisms its lowest rating — along with countries like IraqEthiopia and Liberia.

The dark heart of the bureaucracy is the Mogamma. Built in 1950, it was originally conceived as an efficient one-stop shop for all Egyptians’ official needs. Instead it’s become a synonym for bureaucratic bloat, its musty corridors and offices crammed with 18,000 employees from a dozen ministries and scores of government departments.

In 2005 the prime minister ordered the building closed. But ordering and implementing are two different things in Egypt, and four years later the Mogamma remains as crowded as ever.

Maybe by the time I need to apply for a residency permit they’ll have finally closed it.

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