Every country has one. A government building associated with bureaucracy. In Egypt it is the Mogamma, which is situated at one side of Tahrir Square and is a massive concrete building, which would not be out of place in one of the Eastern European capitals. Many of the departments of the Egyptian Government have their offices there, and apparently 18,000 civil servants work in the building – I can well believe it. I was there to apply for a residency visa, which would allow me to stay in Egypt for another year, and came forearmed with the application form duly filled in, copies of various pages of my passport, plus letters supporting my application and also numerous passport photos (the studio at the end of the road here gives you 8 small photos plus three large ones all for just over a pound sterling). Accompanied by a colleague, who at least knew where to go and what to do, I wandered through a maze of corridors and past so many lost-looking souls sitting on chairs, queuing at windows and some even eating breakfast. If I had been by myself, I would have probably joined one of the long queues of people, but having my colleague with me, we went to the only empty window, and amazingly someone appeared and dealt with us, taking a cursory glance at the various documents, and a longer look at my tourist visa, which I had bought at the airport and had assumed to last three months, but which turns out only to last 15 days, so I had to pay a fine, which meant joining several other queues before getting the vital stamps which had to be placed on my form at the original window. From the length of the queue of those paying the fine, overstaying your visa is not a big issue, but rather is seen as simply another way of collecting money. Certainly more profitable than the 7 Egyptian Pounds they charge for the residency visa – just over 50p!
Ten days later I had to return to finish the process, pay 83 Egyptian pounds (next to nothing really), then wait with scores of other people in a hot stuffy corridor for what seemed an age, anxious to see whether a visa had been granted. My heart fell when a policeman, in his pristine white uniform, summoned me to his office. Thinking of the visas from Israel and the stamps from Gaza in my passport, I feared the worst, but when I reached the office, it was simply for him to give me 80 Egyptian pounds, as apparently I had been overcharged! It was the first time that an official has ever given me back money! He then sat me down at his desk in front of a fan and went off to process my visa. Within 10 minutes it was all completed, and I am now allowed to work (unlike Israel, where my visa stated quite categorically that I was NOT ALLOWED TO WORK!). What is more, it will be a year, inshallah, before I need to return to the Mogamma again!