Posted by: j | February 6, 2009

The Mogamma, Egyptian Bureaucracy, and Wasta

Yesterday I went to the dreaded Mogamma, the imposing Soviet-era building which houses the Egyptian bureaucracy, to renew my visa.  Having visited the Mogamma before, I was aware of its inefficiency, its disorganization, and its other soul-crushing qualities.  I knew that I needed an Egyptian to accompany me through what would undoubtedly be a horribly frustrating experience.

I turned to my “go-to” Egyptian friend, Hany (who is a saint, I might add), to help me through the process of renewing my visa.  It’s hard to explain just how difficult procuring the visa would have been without him.  Judging from my past experiences at the Mogamma, I would have (literally) pushed my way through the masses of people congregating around the various partitions (because there is no concept of forming lines in Egypt), and then I would have been sent to approximately six different counters/windows/floors before someone told me the correct place to go, waited an hour for the person at the correct counter/window/floor to verify my passport information, waited another three hours while my passport was sent to God knows where, and then told to come back in four days.  Sorry, but I had to get to my fabulous five-star oasis vacation on Friday.  I had no time to wait.

Hany made the process unbelievably easier, and not just because he is native Arabic speaker.  Egypt is informally run on a system of wasta, which doesn’t have an exact translation in English, so the closest thing I can equate it to is “privilege” or “connections.”  Wasta is essential; without it, you are fated to lead a very difficult life.  Everyone has at least a little bit of wasta, whether it be a cousin that works for the government or an uncle that works in a hospital, or even a friend of a friend who has or does something which benefits you.

However, as a foreigner with no formidable ties to Egyptian society, I am effectively wasta-less.  Which is why I rely heavily on my rich, socially-elite Egytian friends when I find myself in a situation which requires wasta.

So I called Hany, and he put his wasta to good use for me.  His uncle knew one of the “higher-ups” in the consular department of the Mogamma, so instead of pushing and being pushed, struggling to navigate the labyrinth that is the interior of the Mogamma, and going on an all-day wild goose chase for a visa, we were ushered into a private office to sort everything out.  Once there, after the usual small-talk, the officer assigned us a girl (I don’t know what her official title was) named Naveen to “speed up” the visa renewal process.  She was amazing.  She dropped the officer’s name to all of the officials who processed my visa so it would be taken care of first.  The whole thing was finished in about two hours (vs. four days without wasta!!).  Pretty impressive, right?


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