Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Mogamma Game in 2012

I went downtown today. I went to the Ministry of Justice on Lazoughly Square to get a paper stamped for a friend. There I was told that I had to take the paper to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When I pointed out that I'd been sent to the Ministry of Justice by the people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they told me that I had to go to the BIG Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the one on the Corniche next to Maspero. Terrific.

Mohamed drove me over there as we passed through the area of downtown Cairo that has been "in flames", "melting down" and "filled with rioters". Other than the usual Cairo traffic, the trip took no time at all as there were no road blocks, no protesters, no fire bombs, not even very many police. It only took half an hour to find the door. Egypt's foggy bottom tends to be really foggy even in broad daylight and just happens to be across the road from what has to be the world's largest used clothing market. 

I found my way in and told them that the people at the Ahmed Orabi Department of Foreign Affairs had sent me to the Department of Justice who had sent me to this Department of Foreign Affairs. "Why?" they asked. "I haven't the slightest idea, but I need this paper stamped." I replied. They looked at the paper and told me that it was dated 1988 and was a marriage contract. I agreed and pointed out that it was stamped by the Consulate in New York. They told me that it should have been stamped by Foreign Affairs and/or the Justice Department over twenty years ago. I pointed out that as the groom on the paper had been dead for about a year and the bride was living in the US, there wasn't much they could do about that, but I was trying to get the inheritance papers sorted out for my friend and that if they woulf be so kind as to  help me, I would really appreciate it. A small whispered consultation took place and I was suddenly given a numbered tag and marched over to a tent where apparently the one man in all of Egypt who could sign this paper and stamp it for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in lieu of the Department of Justice was working. This very kind and polite elderly gentleman did so and then directed me to a third Department of Foreign Affairs.

According to the guys at the big Department of Foreign Affairs, this third office was “just behind the Semiramis Hotel near the US embassy”. Wonderful. This was exactly where I had promised my two currently long-distance kids not to go after the excitement of the past few days. Back into the car, a trip through the madness that is Cairo’s roadways near the Ramses Hilton (a place that I absolutely refuse to drive myself) and we found our way to the back of the Semiramis Hotel. Mohamed had to drop me and leave because there were no parking places and no way the police around there were going to allow him to wait around. Once I asked for the building with this office, I was pointed to a spot about two or three blocks south. “Behind” is a very relative term in Egypt. If you are in our foggy bottom looking south, then the other Foreign Affairs IS behind the Semiramis, but it is also behind the Shepheard’s Hotel and behind a couple of other buildings as well. To my untutored mind, I naturally assumed that “behind” required “in front of” being facing the Nile, but obviously to them it meant “in front of” being facing them. Interesting world view.

As I made my way to the hopefully last office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the shortest route was blocked by a four meter wall of enormous concrete blocks recently placed across the road to block protesters from the US embassy, so I had to walk around the Shepheard’s to the Corniche along the Nile, turn left away from the Nile and then zigzag around roads blocked with razor wire and very bored Central Security Forces. A couple of friendly secret police not so secretly gave me directions to the entrance of the ministry, which was guarded by even more bored CSF personnel. The brass plate told me that the office was on the fifth floor but someone obligingly pointed out that it was actually on the first. Naturally. This is an odd office that seems to work only with embassies, which would explain why it was practically next door to the US and British embassies, among others. Again I had to go through the entire sequence of events, was told quite brusquely by a very nasty little man to go sit down outside and dismissed. This wasn’t looking good, especially when the same nasty little man came out and shouted at a couple of the people who were waiting outside for whatever they were waiting for….but, miracle of miracles, after twenty minutes I finally received my properly stamped paper so that the lawyer can work on the statement of heirs for my friends.

Years ago, people used to joke about the Mogamma Game, a sort of sadistic snakes and ladders that would be experienced by people trying to do paperwork in the Mogamma, things like visa renewals. At the time, I had a very conscientious husband who made sure that the most I ever had to do was to show up at the appropriate time and sign something. Since his death I’ve learned how to do things the hard way, like everyone else in Egypt, and luckily most of the time I can keep a sense of humour about it. So I wandered all over melted down Cairo today and except for the fact that a lot of pavement was being held down by snoozy CSF personnel and I had to walk over four blocks out of my way because of yet another unnecessary wall (wish I had the commission on that franchise with all the walls built over the past year). But the good news is that Cairo is alive and the system of bureaucratic torture is very well indeed.

copyright 2012 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani