I’m in the process of getting some documents legalized. If you have never visited an Egyptian bureaucratic office to legalize, authenticate, or approve a document, you will find the following description utterly amusing, but if you happen to be Egyptian and had visited such an office, you will cringe as you remember the ordeal where inefficiency and wastefulness rule. At the same time, you will realize that if this attitude persists, if no major revamping takes place, Egypt will remain stagnant never taking itself one inch forward.
As a preamble to today’s circumstances, my two documents had to be first notarized in Vancouver ($35 each), authenticated by the Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa ($35 each), and couriered to and from Ottawa ($70). I must admit dealing with the Egyptian Embassy was the most respectful part of the whole process leaving me feeling proud. Check mark, one signature down.
However, upon arrival in Egypt, I was told that, no, the Civil Registry Office I planned to visit soon will not accept the embassy’s authentication, that I had to have my documents approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, too. No, even the stamp of the Egyptian Embassy is not good enough for the Egyptian bureaucrats, so a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs became mandatory before I face the Civil Registry Office.
The office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stamps all documents coming from abroad literally reminds one of a prison. It is a dark spacious area where desperate folks line up until they reach several windows behind columns of bars. I have no clue why the staffers sit behind these bars, hence, the term prison.
Can the staffer tell if this is the true stamp of the Egyptian Embassy? Does he have an eye to differentiate between forged documents and genuine ones? I doubt it. In any case, he signed my documents and let me go. A third set of stamps, after the notary public's and the Egyptian embassy's stamps, now coloured my two documents. Check mark, second signature down.
I head to the Civil Registry in Abbasia, a macabre madhouse where just about all Caireans go to get foreign documents, ambiguous legal matters, and complicated issues approved. For death and birth certificates, for marriage and divorce licenses, and for everything else in between, one heads to the nightmarish office called the Civil Registry in Abbasia. I stand in a mob-like queue for sometime only to be told that, since my document is in English, it had to be translated. Where? The next door building. Off I head to the next door building.
It proved to be the courthouse with an adjacent structure that handles more civil work. Where is the Translation Department? On the eighth floor. I avoid the elevators since a mob awaits the elevators’ arrivals. I climb up the eight storeys my heart pounding and my legs ready to call it quits.
I arrive at the translation office. My documents are passed from an admittance staffer, to the head translator, to a regular translator, to another regular translator, and back to the admittance officer. He fills a form, adds up the cost, and says, “Now, go, pay, and bring the receipts back.” Where is the cashier? “First floor.,“ he says. “You must be kidding,” I exclaim. No, he was dead serious.
Down I go eight floors. I visit two cashier offices and once more head up to the eighth floor with six receipts. I kid you not: six receipts. As I pant, feel dizzy and remain totally out of breath, I am told to return at 10 a.m. in four days to get my translated documents. No check mark so far.
How can a country function in this fashion? How can incompetency rule, inefficiency reside, and failure become the norm? To get a document approved a person needs to take a week leave of absence.
I am not a person who enjoys criticism. If I can’t find a solution to an issue, I usually avoid talking about it. But how can Egypt fix 60 years of deterioration and decay? Where does it start? How can it change the mentality that has become the norm in this decent country of ours? I honestly don’t know. At the same time, I’m petrified by the scene I witnessed today and know that it is bound to keep Egypt far from progress leading it to an everlasting standstill.
My next visit to the Translation Office and from there to the Civil Registry Office takes place in four days. I’ll keep you posted.